Updates on the disciplinary case against the Douglas County DA and how much it’s cost so far

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A pending complaint against the Douglas County district attorney will proceed to a hearing before a disciplinary panel in which several judges and former DA’s office employees are on the witness list to be called to testify.

Much of the complaint focuses on a public conflict between DA Suzanne Valdez and Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria just a couple of months into Valdez’s term over how jury trials would be handled, but the investigation continued long after.

The complaint alleges that Valdez “continued to exhibit discourteous conduct and makes personal attacks towards Chief Judge McCabria, even during this disciplinary process.” Read the backstory on the complaint in this Aug. 19 article.

Valdez’s attorney, Stephen Angermayer, had filed a motion to dismiss the case or stay proceedings to have a third party investigate. He wrote that there was at least a perception of bias based on Valdez’s former employee, a witness in the case, being involved in the investigation into the complaint.

Special prosecutor Kimberly Bonifas filed an answer stating that “a neutral investigation has already been done on this case by the appointed investigator, Ron Wurtz, and by the Special Prosecutor; the Respondent just doesn’t agree with the outcome.”

“After carefully considering the motion and the response, the hearing panel concludes that the investigations by the original investigator and by the special prosecutor are independent and neutral and that a fair hearing will continue as scheduled,” Stacy L. Ortega, presiding officer for the disciplinary hearing panel, wrote in an Aug. 23 order. “The respondent’s motion to dismiss or in the alternative to stay proceedings is denied.”

Bonifas this week filed her witness and exhibit list.

The witness list includes Judges McCabria, Amy Hanley, Blake Glover and Mark Simpson; former Douglas County prosecutors Eve Kemple, Alice Walker, Dave Melton and Emily Hartz; current Deputy DA Joshua Seiden; investigator Ronald E. Wurtz; former deputy disciplinary administrator Deborah Hughes; attorney Shaye Downing, who was on the panel of Douglas County defense attorneys who took appointed cases at the time; Tiffany Wade, McCabria’s administrative assistant; Valdez herself; any witnesses Valdez might call; and any foundation witnesses necessary to present the exhibits.

Exhibits include numerous emails, press releases, Facebook posts, text messages, court hearing transcripts and more. The list asks Valdez to “please stipulate to the admission of the exhibits or file specific written objections to the admission of the exhibits in advance of the hearing on the formal complaint.”

Cost to Douglas County taxpayers

Angermayer, the Pittsburg, Kansas-based attorney representing Valdez, has been paid $11,183 through Friday, according to information from Cheryl Cadue, spokesperson for the DA’s office.

No other attorneys have been paid for assistance in responding to complaints filed against Valdez or any other Douglas County prosecutors since Valdez took office on Jan. 11, 2021, Cadue said.

She said nearly all complaints get dismissed early in the process, and that the office keeps no records of staff who were notified that the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator had received a complaint.

“When a response is required, we first contact the Office of the Attorney General for assistance. This is one way in which that office provides support to prosecution agencies within Kansas,” Cadue said via email. “In other instances, an attorney in this office has assisted another in drafting a response to a disciplinary complaint. Under either of those scenarios, there is no additional payment being made by the District Attorney’s Office.”


The DA’s office’s budget — $2.92 million in 2023 — constitutes 1.72% of Douglas County’s operating budget.

In July 2022, Valdez requested the Douglas County Commission add $30,000 to her office’s budget to hire outside counsel to handle complaints and assist with responses to Kansas Open Records Act requests. She said at the time that she believed the office was seeing more complaints because they were putting more policies in place and trying to be more transparent, and that formulating responses took time away from prosecutors’ core work.

Commissioners had many questions and ultimately denied that request. And attorneys with Stevens & Brand, the firm that represents the county and the sheriff’s office, have said they cannot represent the DA because of a conflict of interest.

What happens next

Valdez plans to file her answer to the formal complaint on Tuesday, Sept. 5. She must then file her own list of witnesses and exhibits no later than 14 days after her answer. Valdez wrote in an August statement that her filings “will be robust, thorough, and will add context to the events precipitating these proceedings.”

If the hearings proceed as scheduled, the hearing panel will hear evidence from both sides and issue a report that will include a recommendation regarding discipline. The panel will include Ortega, Gaye Tibbets and Sylvia B. Penner. All are attorneys with Wichita-based firms, according to the complaint. 

The case is set for a prehearing conference at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, which will be held virtually by Zoom. The hearing will be open to the public. Requests to attend the Zoom hearing can be emailed to Krystal Vokins, counsel to the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys, at vokinsk@kscourts.org or by calling her at 785-435-8200. 

The formal hearing is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 12 and 13. It will also be open to the public, but whether it will be held in person or virtually will be decided during the prehearing conference. 

A rule the Kansas Supreme Court adopted in 2021 could allow the matter to be settled with a “summary submission,” a written admission and stipulation, recommendation for discipline and waiver of the hearing. The parties would have until roughly Sept. 12 to pursue such an agreement under the rules.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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