GoFundMe started to benefit DA's legal defense against State Bar

CHEYENNE — A GoFundMe campaign has been created to benefit the Laramie County District Attorney's legal defense against what it calls "overreach" by the Wyoming State Bar.

The fundraiser, posted Sunday evening, is titled "Fight Cancel Culture in Laramie County" and displays a photo of Laramie County DA Leigh Anne Manlove and her late father, Ed Grant, a longtime Cheyenne attorney and district court judge. It currently has a goal of $20,000.

The State Bar filed two separate charges against the district attorney, one in June and one in October of last year. The charges allege that Manlove mishandled the prosecution of cases in Laramie County or inappropriately dismissed certain cases, and that she created a hostile work environment for employees of the district attorney's office.

Manlove has largely denied the allegations and has said both formal charges fail to provide evidence that she violated any Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys at Law. 

She has said her decisions come down to prosecutorial discretion and how she chooses to run her office, especially under pressure of state budget cuts.

The GoFundMe was started just 10 days before Manlove's disciplinary hearing in front of the Bar's Board of Professional Responsibility – which will address both formal charges – is set to begin. The hearing is scheduled for Feb. 2-11 in the Wyoming Ballroom at Little America Hotel & Resort, 2800 W. Lincolnway. It will be held in front of a three-person panel chosen from the full board, according to BPR clerk Brandi Robinson.

Manlove appears to have been the first person to donate to the fundraiser. Including her $20, she and three other donors had raised $195 by early Monday afternoon. She also shared it on her personal Facebook page Sunday evening.

"I humbly ask you to consider supporting my fight," she wrote above the link to the GoFundMe.

When reached for comment, Manlove said Andrew Rathbun had organized the fundraiser. He and his wife, Jenna, live in Laramie County and are related to her by marriage, she said.

The district attorney deferred any further comment to the description accompanying the fundraiser.

"The case against Ms. Manlove which is before the Board of Professional Responsibility is unprecedented in the State of Wyoming. Never before in the State of Wyoming has there been an effort by the Office of Bar Counsel and judges to attempt to remove a duly elected prosecuting attorney from office because they disagree with her public policy decisions, the way she manages her office, the manner in which she handled mandatory COVID-19 budget cuts, and the manner in which she exercised her prosecutorial discretion in her capacity as the Laramie County District Attorney," the fundraiser's description reads.

In December 2020, all four Laramie County District Court judges and all three circuit court judges sent a letter to the Bar alleging that Manlove dismissed an excessive amount of cases, categorically refused to prosecute certain types of cases and was abusive toward her employees, causing an employment shortage. 

An investigation resulting from that letter, along with complaints from two mothers of domestic violence victims who said Manlove's office mishandled their daughters' cases, formed the first formal Bar charge, filed June 11.

The fundraiser's description also claims the Wyoming Attorney General's Office has not been able to pay for Manlove's defense against the Bar, "even though Manlove is a state employee and even though the AG represents state employees in lawsuits because the case was brought by Wyoming State Bar Counsel alleging ethical violations under the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys at Law."

It goes on to say that, because Manlove is a public attorney and prosecutor, she cannot get malpractice insurance because the AG's office is suppose to defend lawsuits brought against state employees.

"This inability to fund Ms. Manlove’s legal defense by the AG is also unprecedented. Ms. Manlove and her family have suffered significant financial harm because of this case, having to bear the costs of her defense from her own statutorily established salary for District Attorneys," the description reads.

Attorney General Bridget Hill said it was true that her office was not funding Manlove's defense, but that it was because her office and the state do not represent state employees or officials in professional licensing matters. 

She said it was "not at all unprecedented," and that the State Bar charges are a licensing matter, not a traditional lawsuit against a state official in their official capacity.

"Because it is an action against her professional license, it is personal to Ms. Manlove as an individual. The state treats everyone with professional licenses the same in this regard," Hill said in an email. "For example, we would not represent a doctor working at the state hospital if the board of medicine brought a licensing matter against that doctor. The same would be true for nurses, engineers, geologists, mental health counselors, and all the other professionally licensed employees working for the state. Of particular note in this instance, we also do not represent employees from the State Public Defender's Office if they have licensing matters with the Wyoming State Bar."

In a second formal charge, filed Oct. 18, the Bar alleged false statements and excuses by Manlove about her office not being able to access crime lab results had impeded the administration of justice in Laramie County, including in an alleged sexual abuse of a minor case. 

Manlove pushed back in her response, saying it was up to law enforcement and other such agencies to notify her office about available evidence from the Wyoming State Crime Lab. Because of program limitations, the crime lab directly notifies agencies that submit evidence – not the DA’s office, she said.

"Not only does each and every allegation set forth in the 1st and 2nd Formal Charges filed against Ms. Manlove fail on their face to reasonably reflect proof by clear and convincing evidence that she violated the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys at Law, but there is also a fundamental question as to whether the Office of Bar Counsel is appropriately using those rules in its campaign to remove Ms. Manlove from the elected office she holds as Laramie County District Attorney – an office she ran for and won by claiming 67.1% of the votes of the citizens of Laramie County. Why should 7 judges and 1 Bar Counsel have more power in an election outcome than over 2/3 of the voters in Laramie County?"  the description continues.

It will be the job of the Board of Professional Responsibility, it says, to decide if the Office of Bar Counsel should be prosecuting Manlove based on the complaints laid out in the formal charges, to consider separation of powers issues and "the constitutional principles of prosecutorial discretion."

"This is a case that should have never been. Please help Ms. Manlove, our duly elected Laramie County District Attorney, and her family, continue to fight this overreach by unelected officials who have clearly crossed a very important line and who appear to disagree with her conservative politics," the description concludes. "Please donate to her legal defense fund."

On Dec. 28, Manlove's attorney in the matter, Stephen Melchior, filed a motion to withdraw an affirmative defense that alleged personal and political bias against her, as laid out in her amended response to the second formal charge. The motion said that, through her discovery, Manlove had not received enough information to support this position.

Manlove had argued that the formal charges against her, in part, stemmed from the Office of Bar Counsel or Special Bar Counsel's bias against her because she is a conservative Republican, or "because of Office of Bar Counsel's (i.e., Mark Gifford's) affront and outrage at and against Respondent Manlove regarding her position on COVID-19 related mask mandates and her announcement on a radio interview on October 31, 2020 that she would not prosecute violations of a Laramie County Health Officer Public Health Order."

State Bar Counsel Gifford declined to comment.