SUNDANCE — Though the court has officially accepted Mary Kuhl’s new plea of “no contest” against a felony charge related to her conduct in office as county treasurer, the Crook County Commissioners are less than happy with the agreement.
A letter filed with Crook County District Court and signed by all three commissioners questions whether allowing Kuhl to plead “no contest” will truly offer justice to the taxpayers of this county.
“Under this plea agreement, Ms. Kuhl is afforded the opportunity to plead no contest to the felony charge…by way of a deferred sentence. All misdemeanor charges are being dismissed,” states the letter filed with Crook County District Court.
“In effect, this means that Ms. Kuhl, if probation is successfully completed, will have no criminal record to which future employers will have knowledge of. A no contest plea is also not an admission of guilt.”
Kuhl originally pled “not guilty” to the felony charge of unauthorized use of monies, as well as to one misdemeanor count of official misconduct and two misdemeanor counts of issuing false certificate.
The plea agreement would see all but the felony dismissed. Kuhl would be placed on supervised probation for two years, after which the felony would be expunged from her record.
“The Crook County taxpayers, as represented by the governing body, have not been afforded the opportunity to accept or deny this plea agreement,” states the letter.
“This plea agreement also has no restriction upon Ms. Kuhl in running for another elected position, as she will still be a qualified elector since this is not an actual conviction.”
The commissioners express their concern in the letter that no admission of guilt and no clear record will mean that taxpayers will not be made fully aware of the actions Kuhl took while in elected office.
“Should the taxpayers of Crook County not be afforded justice? Wyoming Statutes are put in place to protect the people from the abuse of power by those they elect,” states the letter.
“Public service is public trust. Elected officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the State of Wyoming. By allowing this plea agreement, public trust and accountability of elected officials is broken. Elected officials should be held to a higher standard.”
The letter was briefly mentioned during Kuhl’s change of plea hearing on Wednesday, when Judge Stuart S. Healy III asked if special prosecutor Greg Steward had discussed it with the commissioners.
Steward confirmed that he had done so, and also contacted the Wyoming Bar Association. He stated that he will probably advise it be submitted as a victim impact statement to be considered at the appropriate time, which will likely be during Kuhl’s sentencing hearing.
Later in the hearing, Kuhl’s attorney Jason Tangeman noted that she is “not intending to run for office again.”
The change of plea hearing was scheduled as a formal acceptance of Kuhl’s switch to “no contest”, which essentially means that she does not intend to dispute the charge against her. Judge Healy explained the implications of the move, telling Kuhl that it means giving up her right to a speedy and public trial.
“There will be no trial of any kind,” he said, also noting that the state is relieved of its burden to prove her guilt and Kuhl must give up, “Any defense you may believe you have.”
Healy further explained that the court can reject the plea, while Kuhl has the right to withdraw it if that should happen. If Kuhl breaks her probation or commits a crime, she will be sentenced on the felony charged and will lose rights such as the right to own a firearm, to vote and, of course, to hold public office.
“No contest, your honor,” responded Kuhl when asked to give her plea.
Judge Healy found that the plea had been knowingly and properly made and was supported on a factual basis by the state, and said he, “Hereby accepts her plea, at this time, of no contest.”
The next step, according to the judge, is the preparation of a pre-sentence investigation, which he told Kuhl will be a, “Detailed account of your life.” It will include, for example, financial information and a recommendation from a probation officer as to whether she is a viable candidate for probation.
Sentencing, said Judge Healy, will be scheduled approximately two weeks after the investigation report is complete. He reminded Kuhl that an additional condition of her bond will be to cooperate with the preparation of the report.
“This is a very favorable plea agreement,” he said, telling Kuhl that violating her bond or otherwise breaking the law could lead the court to revoke its acceptance of the plea.