CHEYENNE – A Laramie County District Court judge ordered District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove to give a legal basis as to why a case should be dismissed, calling language mentioning state budget cuts to her office “improper” in a motion for dismissal.

In an order to show cause filed Nov. 20, Judge Steven Sharpe ordered Manlove to give legal reasoning for dismissal of a case against Jose Noe Villarreal, who pleaded not guilty in August to felony theft and felony property destruction. Manlove’s motion for dismissal, filed Nov. 10, details the effects of recent state budget cuts to her office’s staffing and caseloads, saying the cuts prevent the office from being able to prosecute Villarreal.

In a Nov. 23 hearing on the matter, Sharpe said that because there had been no jury trials since February, it seemed to him that the DA’s office would have the resources to prosecute other cases, according to a transcript.

“Quite frankly, that’s the job of the district attorney’s office... to enforce the law and to not pick and choose on a basis that they’re not going to enforce the law as to certain matters,” Sharpe said.

In his order, Sharpe says the state “merely copied and pasted a previously submitted memo to the court on the State’s circumstances surrounding the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic” that the court nullified in the past.

“On numerous occasions, in various dockets, the court has addressed the State’s concerns regarding the pandemic and reviewed the contents of the State’s memo,” Sharpe’s order continues. “This court has previously entered orders striking a letter that the State routinely attached to its motions to dismiss as an improper and unnecessary exhibit. Now, instead of attaching the improper letter, the State has chosen to simply incorporate its contents into its motion.”

Manlove failed to show a legal basis for the dismissal as related to the charges against Villarreal, Sharpe says in his order, adding that the court sees the motion as “an attempt to circumvent the court’s previous orders and directions.”

Sharpe said he was “sympathetic” to the budget constraints, but at the hearing called the motion’s reference to them “an improper political statement” by Manlove’s office.

“It goes well beyond the individual case to talk about budgetary issues and, quite frankly, what the court looks to as political wrangling between the District Attorney’s office and the Governor’s office over budgetary matters,” Sharpe said.

Manlove’s motion also mentioned that, in the absence of prosecution by DA’s office, local law enforcement will have to prosecute non-priority offenses. At the Nov. 23 hearing, Sharpe said he sees this as “encouraging unauthorized practice of law by law enforcement officers in circuit court that will have to handle and prosecute their own cases,” according to a transcript.

During the hearing, Manlove apologized to Sharpe and said she would refile the motion, adding that it was not her intention to make a political statement, according to the transcript. Manlove said she wouldn’t object to having the existing motion stricken from the record.

Manlove’s refiled motion would likely be granted by the court, Sharpe said at the hearing. Manlove’s original motion asked that Villarreal’s case be dismissed without prejudice, meaning the case could be refiled and prosecuted in the future.

When asked for comment Wednesday, Manlove referred the WTE to the transcript of the Nov. 23 hearing.

Kim Erickson, Sharpe’s judicial assistant, said the judge had no comment other than to say his concerns are addressed in the order to show cause.

Hannah Black is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at hblack@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter at @hannahcblack.

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