The Wyoming Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned four felony convictions in the criminal appeals case of former Albany County prosecuting attorney Richard Bohling, citing insufficient evidence.
In November 2015, a jury found Bohling guilty of five criminal charges stemming from the misuse of county funds to purchase cameras, tablets and other items: four felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses and a misdemeanor account of official misconduct.
Bohling was acquitted of several other criminal charges at the conclusion of the two-week trial: felony charges of wrongful taking or disposing of property and submitting false vouchers, as well as a misdemeanor count of wrongful appropriation of public funds. At the prosecution’s request, a ninth charge, misdemeanor misuse of office, was dismissed at the start of the trial.
In February, Bohling was sentenced to 2-4 years in prison, fined $45,000 — $10,000 for each of the felony convictions and $5,000 for the misdemeanor conviction — and ordered to pay more than $3,000 in restitution to Albany County.
The Supreme Court decision vacated the obtaining property by false pretenses convictions, determining the state “failed to produce any evidence” that Albany County intended to transfer title of the property to Bohling, but upheld the official misconduct conviction.
Specifically, the Supreme Court found a defendant must possess and acquire the title to a victim’s property to be convicted of obtaining property by false pretenses. In Bohling’s case, the decision concludes, this element of the charge was not met, as evidenced in part by testimony from county officials who confirmed the county owned the property Bohling purchased.
“First, there is no evidence that the county gave Bohling any money with the expectation of never getting it back from him,” the decision states. “This is not a situation where Bohling personally paid for the items and the county then gave him money as reimbursement. There is no plausible way Bohling could have obtained title to it under the facts of this case.”
However, the Supreme Court found there was “no cogent argument or citation” to support reversing the misdemeanor conviction.
Attorneys Linda Devine and Tim Newcomb represented Bohling during the appeals process. On Wednesday, after the release of the Supreme Court decision, Devine said she was happy for her client.
“Obviously we’re very grateful to the Supreme Court for applying the law to this particular case,” she said. “I think it was the right decision.”
Devine said she did not know if Bohling, who was disbarred in 2016 following the criminal convictions, will try to rejoin the Wyoming State Bar. She said it would be “highly improper” for the state to bring forward new charges against Bohling in the future.
“His trial attorneys did an amazing job at preserving the right to appeal,” she added.
“’Cause that’s really huge. If you don’t have the trial attorneys objecting to things at that level, then it can block you from appealing things.”
Sharon Wilkinson, executive director of the Wyoming State Bar, said Wednesday that Bohling was eligible to petition for reinstatement to the bar.
“We just wait, and if we receive a petition from him, that will go back before the board of professional responsibility,” she said. “The board of professional responsibility will hear that — there may be a hearing, there may not — but the board of professional responsibility will take all of that information, make a decision, and then the board makes a recommendation to the Supreme Court. So ultimately, it’s the Supreme Court’s decision.”
Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael could not be reached for comment as of press time Wednesday. Lawyers with the attorney general’s office represented the state in both the trial proceedings and the appeals process.
According to court documents and witness testimony, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation began looking into potential misuse of county funds in March 2014.
The Albany County Clerk’s Office discovered a number of purchasing irregularities during a “quiet audit” of the Albany County Attorney’s Office, and a DCI report later determined Bohling used the items for his own purposes and purchased them by signing vouchers, or having others sign on his behalf.
Bohling was first elected in 2002 and served three consecutive terms as county attorney before deciding not to run for re-election in 2014.