State Bar explains Manlove hearing venue choice

CHEYENNE – In a filing earlier this week, the disciplinary arm of the Wyoming State Bar explained its choice of venue for the Laramie County district attorney’s disciplinary hearing. 

The filing cited an “unprecedented” amount of media coverage and COVID-19 precautions, as well as the availability or suitability of other local venues. 

This filing responded to DA Leigh Anne Manlove’s objection to the eight-day hearing being held earlier this year at what she and her attorney, Stephen Melchior, called the “the lovely and luxurious” Little America Hotel and Resort in Cheyenne. The Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility has asked the Wyoming Supreme Court to order Manlove to reimburse it more than $91,000 for hearing and investigation costs. 

“The Office of Bar Counsel’s willingness to expend (State Bar) resources in this way is outrageous, and appears indubitably done with full confidence and expectation that Manlove would be reimbursing the (Bar) in the end,” Manlove wrote. 

While the BPR has recommended Manlove be disbarred, the state’s high court will ultimately decide how Manlove is disciplined – including how much money, if any, she is on the hook to reimburse.

BPR clerk Brandi Robinson explained in an affidavit how the Bar decided where the hearing would be held. 

“From the time the first formal charge was filed against (Manlove) in mid-June 2021, the case attracted significant attention,” Robinson wrote. “Over time, the amount of press generated by the case exceeded anything we have ever seen in the Bar office.” 

This “unprecedented” coverage, “along with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, were both significant factors in seeking a large meeting space for the hearing in order to accommodate anticipated attendance by the public and the media in a safe manner as dictated by social distancing guidelines,” Robinson wrote. 

After learning the planned length and dates of the hearing, Robinson and other Bar staff began evaluating possible venues.

The Blue Federal Credit Union headquarters’ free event space was considered, but because it lacks walls or doors closing it off from the rest of the building, which would continue to be used for meeting and lunch space for Blue employees, it was found to be “not suitable,” the clerk wrote. 

Laramie County Community College was also evaluated. LCCC apparently did not have space for two of the hearing’s days. 

The State Bar’s executive director, Sharon Wilkinson, then inquired about space at Little America in Cheyenne. She was told there was availability and provided with projected costs. 

“Upon learning what the costs would be, the Bar staff went back to the drawing board to find a more affordable alternative,” Robinson wrote. 

The Hilton Garden Inn in Laramie and the Red Lion Hotel in Cheyenne also apparently did not have adequate availability on the hearing dates. 

In mid-September, Bar staff deemed several other locations either “unsuitable” for the hearing or found they did not have availability for eight consecutive days, the affidavit said.

These locations were the Laramie County School District 1 Administration Building Auditorium; Storey Gym; the Cheyenne Civic Center; Cheyenne City Council chambers within the Municipal Building; and municipal, circuit, district, federal and Supreme Court courtrooms. 

Bar staff made the decision to secure meeting space at Little America in November, Robinson wrote. The hearing was Feb. 2-11. 

“Our concerns regarding the need for a large hearing space were confirmed when, during the week before the hearing was scheduled to begin, (Manlove) gave radio interviews in which she encouraged members of the public to attend the hearing,” the clerk said. 

Robinson wrote that, “to keep costs down as much as possible,” lunch was not provided, except to the three-member hearing panel and the clerk herself. 

Manlove has accused the Bar of “sparing no expense” on meals and beverages. 

The Bar didn’t contract with Little America for the two weekend days during the hearing and was prepared to tear down on Friday evening and set up again on Monday morning. 

Little America did not need to use the ballroom for those days and allowed the Bar to remain set up, free of charge, Robinson said. 

The list of costs, accompanied by copies of invoices and receipts, was submitted to the state Supreme Court on March 11 alongside the hearing panel’s official disbarment recommendation. 

The expenses total $91,196.96. 

At $64,635.75, the largest set of costs by far were those associated with the hearing taking place at Little America: lodging, meals, meeting space and use of audio/visual equipment. 

The Wyoming Room, the ballroom in which the disciplinary hearing was held, cost $1,200 each day. That was except for the two Fridays the ballroom was used, when the price increased to $2,600. 

Other costs included $12,882.75 in expenses for transcription services, and $2,803.18 in mileage, lodging and meal expenses for the hearing panel members. 

Also listed was $9,332.28 in investigation and hearing expenses incurred by Special Bar Counsel Weston W. Reeves, who represented the Bar. 

Invoices for Reeves’ Park Street Law Office in Casper, related to formal complaints filed with the Bar against Manlove, were submitted dating back to March 4, 2021. 

At Little America in Cheyenne, there appears to be a feeling of bafflement that the hotel has been drawn into the controversy involving the disbarment proceedings. The resort’s general manager, Tony O’Brien, on Thursday defended the business and its services. 

Compared with other possible venues in the region to hold such a hearing, Little America Cheyenne’s prices and services are competitive, he said by phone. 

“I’m not sure why Little America is getting brought up as a part of all of this. It shouldn’t be part of the conversation,” O’Brien said. “Especially for event tech, we offer state-of-the-art event tech for any of our meetings.” 

Bottom line, the general manager noted, is that “fair economics would say that you can have your meeting wherever you want. We offer fair pricing, and that’s why the meeting was here.”