Current, former employees defend DA

CHEYENNE – Several current and former employees of the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office took the witness stand Wednesday to defend against wide-ranging allegations against DA Leigh Anne Manlove.

Each of the witnesses called Wednesday denied that they had ever seen Manlove act unprofessionally or in an abusive manner toward staff. Current and former staff denied that there was a pattern of public shaming, and they rejected the idea that the DA’s office was a toxic place to work.

One current employee said the toxic work culture had not involved Manlove and was caused by a group of former employees.

Formal charges filed by the Office of Bar Counsel last year with the Wyoming State Bar allege that Manlove mishandled the prosecution of cases in Laramie County and inappropriately dismissed certain cases, and that she created a hostile work environment for employees of the district attorney’s office.

Following the hearing, which may last until Friday, a three-person panel chosen from the Bar’s full Board of Professional Responsibility will decide whether to recommend disciplinary measures against Manlove to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

On his first full day of calling witnesses, Manlove’s attorney, Stephen Melchior, called eight current and former employees of the Laramie County DA’s office.

Despite being in busy, high-stress positions, the six attorneys said they’d had overall pleasant experiences working in the office. These witnesses followed testimony Tuesday afternoon by two attorneys, one former and one current, who had largely similar things to say.

None who had moved on to other jobs said they left because of a toxic office environment or abuse from Manlove.

Jeff O’Holleran, who currently works in the office, said there were “a couple emails (Manlove) shot off” when she was angry that he wouldn’t have sent, but nothing that rose to the level of being unprofessional.

Clay Kainer, an attorney in the office from April to December 2020, said he’d witnessed some of the group emails in which Manlove criticized attorneys for things they’d done.

Although “the workload was insane,” Kainer said he’d generally liked working with his colleagues at the DA’s office.

Melchior also called Lisa Riggs, who has worked as Manlove’s legal assistant since the beginning of her administration in January 2019. Riggs had previously worked for former Laramie County DA Scott Homar from 2011 to 2015.

Riggs said she and Amanda Santee, who worked as office manager for the DA’s office beginning in January 2019, hadn’t had a good working relationship when they’d both served as legal assistants under Homar. Riggs said Santee was angry she hadn’t gotten a position Riggs did.

When the two of them began working for Manlove, Riggs said she was hopeful things would be better. On her second day on the job, she said she knew that wouldn’t be the case.

Santee repeatedly told Riggs she was “unapproachable,” she said, and that Riggs needed to work on how she treated court staff and law enforcement. She said Santee, as her direct supervisor, seemed to ask her to do certain tasks just because she could, and she would yell at Riggs “all the time.”

After Santee left and a new office manager started, “all of our problems were solved,” Riggs said – the drama among support staff and “overwork” disappeared.

Aside from Santee, Riggs said the toxic work environment had actually been caused by former Deputy District Attorney Caitlin Harper and Josephine Carlson, a former assistant victim-witness coordinator with the office. Former attorney Rachel Berkness and legal assistant Lori Pallak had contributed, she said.

Since these employees left the office, it had become a more professional and pleasant place to work, Riggs said.

Santee, Harper, Berkness and Pallak all testified last week that Manlove had caused and fostered a “chaotic” and “hostile” work environment in the office. Former attorney Cameron Geeting testified to similar sentiments.

Rather than Manlove using frequent profanity, as was alleged by other witnesses, Riggs said Harper and Carlson would often use foul and sexually explicit language in the office, and were once chastised for it in by Manlove in a morning meeting.

Riggs said Harper was “very immature” and would often play practical jokes in the office, once replacing hand sanitizer in the office with lube. Riggs was so upset about the issue, which happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, that she went home for the rest of the day.

At one point, Harper applied for a circuit court judgeship and was convinced she would get it, Riggs said. After she didn’t get an interview, Riggs said Harper became mean.

In December 2020, Riggs said Harper came into her office and told her a “psychic” in town told her Manlove was going to be in “big trouble.” During the interaction, Riggs said Harper smiled widely and said: “Well, I better get ready, because I’m going to be the district attorney.”

This interaction later stood out in Riggs’ mind, she said, when she learned the following June about the first formal charge filed by the State Bar against Manlove. Her first thought was that Harper “set this up.”

Riggs agreed that some events in a journal kept by Santee over about six months in the office – which included alleged conflicts involving Riggs – must have been invented by either Santee or another employee, because they didn’t happen.

She said she believed there is a “very negative” stigma surrounding the Laramie County DA’s office because of publicity from the Bar’s formal charges against Manlove.

Riggs also disagreed with the idea that Manlove expected regular work outside of business hours, but said if Manlove asked her to work outside of her regular schedule, she would be there.

Also discussed during Wednesday’s testimony was a waiver the Laramie County DA’s office tried to obtain that would have allowed the hiring of attorneys licensed in other states pending their licensing in Wyoming. It’s difficult to quickly fill positions with out-of-state applicants, a former employee said, because the licensing process often takes several months.

A similar waiver had previously been granted to the Office of the State Public Defender, following an issue where Public Defender Diane Lozano told a Campbell County court her office could not provide adequate defense to all indigent defendants because of a shortage of attorneys.

Baend Buus, a former attorney in the office who helped prepare the petition for the waiver, testified that he believed the Laramie County DA’s office was in a “really similar situation” when it submitted a petition to the Bar’s Board of Law Examiners and Character and Fitness Committee for recommendation.

Despite Bar Counsel Mark Gifford’s feedback before submitting the petition, it was ultimately voted down, Buus said.

While questioning Buus, Melchior told him Gifford had recommended the petition be denied.

After receiving an email with the result from Gifford, Buus said the petition was not pursued any further, and he wasn’t aware of anyone in the office asking about the outcome. Gifford said the DA’s office could still petition the Supreme Court for the waiver, but that it had to include that the Bar had not recommended it.

“I don’t think we dug, even,” Buus said. “There was no reason to dig.”