Disciplinary hearing against Douglas County DA scheduled to move forward next month

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Post updated at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19:

A disciplinary hearing against Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez will be conducted in person next month, though attorneys in a prehearing conference could not guarantee that testimony would be completed within the two days currently planned.

The hearing, scheduled to begin Oct. 12, will address a formal complaint accusing Valdez of violating rules of conduct, as well as engaging in personal attacks and discourteous behavior toward Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria. The complaint alleges that problems began approximately two months after Valdez took office in January 2021. (Read the full background on the complaint in the articles linked below.)

A panel comprising Wichita attorneys Stacy L. Ortega, Gaye Tibbets and Sylvia B. Penner will hear the case and issue a report that will include a recommendation regarding discipline.

Ortega oversaw Tuesday’s virtual Zoom hearing, which was an opportunity for special prosecutor Kimberly Bonifas and Valdez’s attorney, Stephen Angermayer, to iron out deadlines and details regarding submission of exhibits and witness lists.

On Aug. 30, Bonifas filed a list of 14 witnesses and 17 exhibits that she intends to present during the hearing. Valdez’s team was required to submit its list today. During the prehearing conference, Angermayer said he would file foundation witnesses and exhibits by the Sept. 19 deadline, but he was granted a 10-day extension to file his list of mitigation witnesses and exhibits.

Bonifas said she would ask that if the panel is agreeable to granting the extension, that it apply to both aggravating and mitigating witnesses.

“Potentially there may be additional aggravating evidence necessary after I review the respondent’s witnesses and exhibits,” she said.

The potential for a lengthy defense witness list raised concern over whether the hearing could be completed within the current schedule.

“We’ll do our level best to get this done in two days,” Angermayer said.

Bonifas and Angermayer agreed to meet and discuss what could be stipulated, meaning entered into the court record without supporting testimony or documents presented in open court, in an effort to save time.

Angermayer recently filed a motion asking to dismiss the case or stay proceedings based on allegations of conflict because former employees of the DA’s office are now employed by the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys. Ortega denied that motion.

Valdez’s answer to the formal complaint also raised concerns about additional potential conflicts, and Ortega gave Angermayer a chance to file a request for recusal of counsel to the board in the matter, which he did.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Ortega acknowledged the motion and said the disciplinary panel had discussed the information but had not yet made a decision. She asked Bonifas and Angermayer to send an update to the panel regarding agreements on stipulations, witnesses and exhibits by Oct. 6.

Ortega also reminded Angermayer that if Valdez, who did not appear on camera during the hearing, wanted to request probation, a plan would need to be submitted to the disciplinary office at least 14 days before the hearing.

“I’m not hearing any intent for that to go that direction, but I wanted to make sure that we had it on the record,” Ortega said.

The formal hearing is scheduled for two days beginning at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 12.

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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