We were disappointed— but not surprised— that the Wyoming Attorney General chose not to intervene in a sexual assault case after the Weston County Commissioners asked him last month to investigate the need for a special prosecutor to handle the matter. (See “AG denies request to intervene,” page one).
Attorney General Peter Michael claimed in a response received by County Commission Chairman Bill Lambert last week that his office lacked statutory authority to intervene in a case unless “the county and prosecuting attorney has failed or refused to act,” and suggested a plea agreement reached between County Attorney William Curley and the defense attorney in the case indicated that Curley had neither refused nor neglected to act.
We would argue that the decision by Judge Michael Deegan to reject the plea agreement, and Curley’s subsequent decision to dismiss the case, now gives the Attorney General all of the authority he needs— based on his own statutory argument— to intervene and appoint a special prosecutor to ensure that the system functions as it should in this matter.
That clearly hasn’t been the case to this point, and this community is fortunate that Judge Deegan exercised his own authority to reject the plea deal— which would have allowed the defendant to enter a ‘no contest’ plea to a charge of sexual exploitation of a child in exchange for having three charges of sexual abuse of a minor dismissed.
Deegan said the court was unwilling to accept a no contest plea to a sex offense such as the one alleged in this case, and he also objected to Curley’s willingness to offer deferred prosecution as part of the deal, which the judge likened to a “slow motion dismissal” that could ultimately allow the defendant to avoid being placed on the sex offender registry.
Judge Deegan was also concerned that the alleged victim in this case was displeased with the agreement. That echoed a concern expressed by another judge in Wyoming’s Sixth Judicial District, Thomas Rumpke, when he rejected a plea deal Curley offered earlier this year in the prosecution of Thomas Davis, the man who later pled guilty to killing Katy Coffee in Newcastle in 2011.
Based on the fact that two plea bargains agreed to by our County Attorney in separate violent felony cases have been rejected by judges in the past year, we would argue with the Attorney General’s claim that a prosecutor is ‘acting’ by simply accepting a plea bargain offered by the defense. As such, we urge our local legislators to encourage the leadership in the Wyoming House and Senate to include a review of the statutes governing the attorney general’s authority in these matters in the topics that will be discussed during next year’s interim.
Fortunately, the Weston County Attorney’s admission in court on Tuesday afternoon that he was not ready to proceed with the case— and his subsequent motion to dismiss charges he had originally filed in November of 2016— removes the statutory obstacle Attorney General Michael believed to exist in this case because the admission clearly indicates a “failure to act,” and it is impossible to argue that the motion to dismiss is anything but a “refusal to act.”
We sincerely hope Attorney General Michael continued to monitor the progress of the case after his own refusal to act in response to the commissioners’ letter, and will immediately move to appoint a special prosecutor. If he hasn’t done so by the time the Weston County Commissioners hold their next meeting, we believe they should formally request a special prosecutor instead of asking the AG to “investigate the need” for one.
No such investigation should be needed after the County Attorney claimed in court on Tuesday that “impediments” have made it difficult for him to take the case to trial. According to Curley, those impediments include due process issues, trail preparation issues and problems with access to the victim, all of which give the AG authority to intervene because it indicates the county attorney is unable to proceed, or “act,” in the matter.
Of course, the person with the clearest authority in state statute to request a special prosecutor in this case is the County Attorney himself, and our readers should flood William Curley’s office with calls and letters demanding that he do the right thing and ask the Attorney General to appoint a prosecutor to handle a case he has now been proven incapable of handling himself.