State asks dismissal of civil rights suit by woman charged in 2016 vote fraud

Oct 6, 2017 From staff reports

An attorney for the Wyoming Secretary of State's office has asked a federal district court to dismiss a lawsuit from a Dubois woman who alleges she was maliciously prosecuted in 2016 when she became the first person in Fremont County to be charged with voter fraud.

Personal connections

The prosecution against the woman, Harley Wells, was complicated by a web of personal connections.

At the time, Wells's then-boyfriend had been involved in a contentious divorce with Kathy Hooper.

Hooper's sister-in-law - Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese - and her son - deputy Brady Patrick - both played a role in investigating Wells, who had voted in at least one election despite being a convicted felon.

Because felons who illegally voted had not historically been prosecuted for voter fraud in Fremont County, Wells argued her unprecedented case violated her rights under the Fourth and Fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Malicious prosecution

Existing case law indicates a malicious prosecution claim requires Wells to show that the prosecution was "terminated in favor of the plaintiff" and that "there was no probable cause to support the original arrest, continued confinement, or prosecution."

Daniel White, attorney for the Secretary of State, said that Wells will not be able to show that the prosecution was terminated in her favor since, although the felony charge was dropped against her, she was convicted of misdemeanor "disturbing a polling place" after pleading no contest.

"Proof of a lack of probable cause would call into question the validity of her plea agreement and conviction," he said.

"There is no indication in Wells's complaint that her misdemeanor conviction has been reversed on appeal, called into question through habeas corpus proceedings, or otherwise declared invalid."

White also argued that it's inappropriate for the Secretary of State to even be a defendant, since Wells's lawsuit doesn't allege that the office was aware of any conflicts of interest or had knowledge that the prosecution might have been personally motivated.

A malicious prosecution claim requires Wells to show that defendants "acted with malice."

"Wells's complaint fails to allege any facts from which this court could make a reasonable inference that the Secretary of State acted unlawfully," White wrote. "There are no factual allegations ... that would permit the inference that the Secretary knew of the family relationships or the conflicts of interest that allegedly existed between the Hoopers and the Fremont County Clerk."

In addition, since the Secretary of State is only sued in his or her "official capacity" and not in any "individual capacity," White said governmental immunity prevents the award of any damages.

Other defendants include Freese, Patrick and the Fremont County Commission.