Much has been made of the formal complaint filed against me on August 14, 2023 by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator. Today, I filed my response. I will now speak on this matter in the frankest of terms.
The district court’s own failure to include me in discussions and decisions on when and how to conduct criminal jury trials during the peak of the global Covid-19 pandemic forms the basis for the formal complaint initiated by Chief Judge James McCabria. This complaint was made almost 2 ½ years ago in March 2021. Much was different during that time. Vaccination of the District Attorney’s Office staff and the public had mostly not occurred. The chaos of the pandemic, along with my transition to office in January 2021 after defeating sixteen-year incumbent, Charles Branson, added further stress and confusion to an already unprecedented and tense situation. Mr. Branson did not allow me meaningful access to the office until January 11, 2021, yet four criminal jury trials had already been scheduled for that day.
The essence of the ethical allegations against me involve press releases, a Facebook post, and a text message about the Covid-19 jury trial plan – a plan on which I had no input. The post on my personal Facebook page references the press releases and makes a general comment about the “insecure man.” While the Facebook post obviously offended Judge McCabria, it also empowered many women - who themselves feel that as females in high level professional or political positions - are not invited to the table to be part of discussion and decision-making meetings and whose voices and opinions are not heard, nor considered. Thus, the speech at issue in this Formal Complaint was extra-judicial and in my role as District Attorney. It is political speech deserving of heightened protections under the First Amendment, and it occurred during the discreet time period of March 18-23, 2021. Importantly, I maintain that I was never invited to meet with the district court about the Covid-19 jury trial plan, nor was I consulted about the plan prior to its implementation.
All other allegations contained in the formal complaint reflect mere dissatisfaction with my unconventional, but much desired, approach to the role of prosecution. Disagreement with my outspoken nature, the independence of my office, and the importance of checks and balances within the criminal justice system say less about my ethical barometer and more about the district court’s reluctance to change and transparency. It appears that any challenge or questioning of the district court is an insult, even in a time of calls for heightened transparency and accountability in our public institutions.
Dating back to 2021, both I and Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden have made multiple requests of the district court to sit down and work through our disagreements. We have suggested including a neutral third party to facilitate discussion; a mediator in one instance and a restorative justice facilitator in another. We have made these requests as recently as August 2023 and the district court has declined each time.
Throughout these proceedings, I have been accused of “pulling the race card” and “pulling the woman card.” These accusations are either naïve oversimplifications or something far more sinister. I am a Hispanic woman. I identify as such and I take a great deal of pride in my heritage. Growing up and even into my adult years, I did not see people who looked like me in positions of power. I attain a position of power, only to be denied a seat at the table and downright silenced. This is the lens through which I view the world, and I make this clear to others when I am speaking. Our lived experience shapes our perspective, and I am simply letting people know where I am coming from. To the extent that anyone feels offended by my perspective or my tone, then this only underscores the need for open lines of communication and honest discourse without fear of repercussions.
Additionally, I am now hearing that some former employees who left the office in early to mid 2021 did so due to the work environment. I disagree. They simply were not amenable to the type of change the community commanded when I was elected. More than one of those employees contacted Mr. Seiden on his personal phone on August 5, 2020, the day following the primary election. They pleaded with Mr. Seiden to put in a good word so that they could keep their jobs. In the weeks that followed my swearing in, it became clear that these employees did not actually want to work for me. Rather, they wished to continue on as they had for so many years – no longer an option after the community showed up on election day and mandated change. With new administrations come change, as we see across nearly every elected office. I prefer competent, willing employees who share the core values of my administration. Since mid-2021, this has been the composition of the District Attorney’s Office and we remain fully staffed and engaged in the pursuit of fair and just prosecution.
As an elected official, I am proud to serve the Douglas County, Kansas community independently as a member of the executive branch of government. I am dedicated to ensuring public safety, but also to reducing the criminal justice footprint when possible. My office’s policies reflect the will of the people, and my team of attorneys and professional staff work hard together daily to use the criminal justice system to hold violent offenders accountable, to provide robust alternatives to prosecution and incarceration when appropriate, and to seek justice for all victims of crime. The District Attorney Office’s Annual Reports for 2021 and 2022 reflect the work and mission of my office, which is “a safe and just community.” The annual reports show that I have held firm to the promises I made during my campaign, implementing the policies that more than 45,000 voters elected me to do in 2020. All that we have accomplished in my office has come during the pendency of this disciplinary complaint, and we remain mission-driven and undeterred. Business as usual. Onward.
Public Information Officer
Douglas County District Attorney's Office