CHEYENNE – A Laramie County District Court judge rejected a request by the county’s district attorney to reconsider her exclusion from a recent hearing involving a man awaiting sentencing on several felony charges, including manslaughter.
The order from Judge Catherine Rogers, filed Thursday, is a single paragraph, simply stating that the request had been denied by the court.
Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove filed a motion Nov. 16 challenging Rogers’s setting of an “in camera,” or closed, hearing on Nov. 12 that excluded her office. The closed hearing included the defendant in the case, Frank John McHenry; his attorney, Cody Jerabek; Rogers; Rogers’s court reporter and jail staff.
It was still unclear Tuesday what took place during the closed meeting, though jail calls between McHenry and his mother described in an affidavit may provide some insight. McHenry said Rogers had “encouraged him to think about withdrawing his plea,” and that he believed the hearing had stemmed from a conflict between Rogers and Jerabek.
In her motion, Manlove alleged the closed hearing had included ex parte communications, or communications between a judge and an involved party without the other party’s knowledge, about substantive matters. The court had not notified involved parties of the ex parte communication or given it an opportunity to respond, as is required by the Wyoming Code of Judicial Conduct, she said.
Ex parte communications may be allowed in some limited circumstances, but Manlove wrote that these did not seem to apply – although, because she was not present for the hearing and does not have access to a transcript, which was allegedly sealed at the direction of Rogers, she couldn’t be completely sure of the judge’s motives or potential justifications.
While Manlove was made aware of the hearing via email before it took place, an order setting it for 3 p.m. Nov. 12 was not marked “filed” until Nov. 15.
Manlove’s motion also alleged there was no evidence to support barring the state from the hearing, the closure of a hearing that would have otherwise been public or the sealing of a transcript, and that the court “inserted itself into the attorney-client relationship.”
Jerabek did not object to Manlove’s filing, according to the motion.
McHenry’s sentencing is currently set for 9 a.m. Dec. 10. It was previously scheduled for Nov. 12, and then for Nov. 19, when it was again reset.