Douglas County DA shares regrets in day 2 of disciplinary hearing

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TOPEKA — Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez became tearful as she repeatedly apologized and expressed how embarrassed she was to be sitting in her disciplinary hearing Tuesday afternoon. 

She said she’s lived with the shame of her actions for nearly three years. 

“I don’t want to be here. It is humiliating,” she said. “… I regret it. I regret all of that. It was a very difficult time.” 

Valdez only got through just short of an hour of testimony late Tuesday afternoon before Day 2 of her three-day hearing wrapped. 

The rest of the day’s testimony included former Senior Assistant District Attorney Alice Walker, Douglas County District Judge Mark Simpson and Pro Tem Judge Blake Glover. 

Valdez’s attorney, Stephen Angermayer, also called Deputy DA Joshua Seiden to testify in Valdez’s defense. 

The disciplinary hearing is regarding a complaint about Valdez’s conduct toward Chief Judge James McCabria, and specifically some public statements she had made that called his integrity into question — and by extension, the integrity of the entire court, as some witnesses testified Monday. 

Valdez in March 2021, just two months after she took office, issued a press release that implied McCabria had falsely asserted that her office was on board with a plan to resume jury trials in April 2021. 

Catch up on the details of the dispute and Day 1 of the hearing at this link

Walker worked for the DA’s office for about 10 years. She had been thinking about moving on from the office for a few reasons when Valdez issued her first press release about jury trials in March 2021. 

Walker said she applied for her new job, with the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, the same day. She said she was shocked, she didn’t want to be “attached to that” for her career, and she couldn’t work with Valdez. 

She became a bit emotional describing tightness in her chest that she’d get when she walked into work each day, caused by the stress of the job. 

Walker said Valdez would often say negative situations occurred “Because I’m a woman.” 

Simpson testified that Seiden and Valdez had agreed to meet with him to discuss a new program to improve handling of care and treatment cases, or cases that often involve involuntary hospitalizations. However, he said the two skipped the meeting with him and the county’s director of behavioral health projects without notice.


Seiden later testified that they had not gone to the meeting because the DA’s attorney at the time had cautioned them to be very careful about attending meetings with judges if it was anything that could result in some kind of discord, or potential allegations of rules violations. 

Simpson also said the DA had sort of issued an ultimatum via email, saying her office wouldn’t file journal entries for expungements anymore if the court wouldn’t correct errors in entries that had been rejected. He said it was not an issue that had been discussed in court, and he didn’t have a problem looking into the issue, but the ultimatum approach bothered him.

Glover testified about the DA’s office opting to “stand silent” when the Office of Judicial Administration brought to the court’s attention nearly 1,000 traffic cases that could soon automatically generate notices that people’s licenses would be suspended if the cases were not resolved. Some of the cases dated back more than 10 years. Many had been continued amid COVID-19. (Read more about that in this article.) 

Defense case

Seiden testified about several ways the DA’s office has worked with the district court to find solutions to issues, make processes more efficient and more over the past few years. 

Much of the testimony against Valdez has focused on negative fallout from her statements — hostility and distrust between the judges and the DA’s office, for instance. 

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Stephen Angermayer, left, counsel for Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, walks with Deputy DA Joshua Seiden, Dec. 19, 2023.

Seiden said he thinks there’s a “healthy degree of independence” between the bench and the DA’s office, but he does not believe there’s any disruption to the administration of justice. He said he feels like the DA’s office can work with the bench, and he hopes the feeling is reciprocated. 

Special prosecutor Kimberly Bonifas asked Seiden several questions about his involvement in the complaint case, noting that the exhibits appeared to have been printed by him rather than Valdez. He said he’s better with technology than his boss, and he helped get some emails and information together. 

Seiden said as he recalled, Valdez had drafted her initial March 2021 press release and he had copy edited it. He said he thinks all the time about what would have happened if he had never hit “send,” and in hindsight, it would probably have been a better choice not to send out the release at all. 

Valdez testified that as she took office in January 2021, she was probably working 20 hours a day. It was around the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was learning the job, her office was short staffed, and it was “chaos,” she said. 

Those were the circumstances surrounding when she issued the press release, which she said was out of character. She said she never realized how deeply it affected Walker and other prosecutors who left the office, but that she had spoken to each staff member and apologized. 

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, right, heads into the second day of her disciplinary hearing, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

She said she has tried to meet with judges a few times to express a sincere apology, but they have declined to meet with her. 

She said she got a sense that the fallout from her press release could blow over, and “the press certainly didn’t help with this.” 

She said she hoped that her office’s criminal mediation initiative could potentially be useful in resolving the dispute, but the judges declined to participate. 

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Valdez has not yet been asked specific questions about her Facebook post and texts to McCabria. However, Seiden testified Tuesday about what she had told him regarding the Facebook post. 

Valdez had shared the press release from the district attorney’s office’s Facebook page to her personal page, which was public, with the message, “Women of the world- be prepared! If you are hardworking, outspoken, honest, AND in a position of authority, the INSECURE MAN will try to tear you down. Not me, says I!!”

Seiden said Valdez told him she was referring to a Taylor Swift song, “The Man,” and that the post was about “the insecure man in general.” 


Seiden said he didn’t know until a few months ago about texts Valdez sent to McCabria the night he issued a press release to let the public know about jury trials resuming. 

Valdez wrote in the texts, “You should be ashamed of yourself. We were TOLD, not consulted. The only reason you commented is because I am a Hispanic female (in) a position of power. … I will shine the light of truth on everything.” 

Seiden said if you look far enough in anyone’s text messages, you could probably find something they wouldn’t want printed in the news. He said he didn’t think it was inappropriate for her to reach out to McCabria that way. He also said he didn’t agree that McCabria issued the press release because Valdez is a Hispanic woman; he said he believed there were a lot of reasons, including loyalty to the four-term former DA, Charles Branson. 

The hearing resumes at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 20 at the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka. The panel hearing the complaint ruled that there would be no livestream of the hearing, and no members of the public or media are allowed to use electronic devices or cameras in the courtroom.

Douglas County District Judges Sally Pokorny and Stacey Donovan are expected to testify for the prosecution as “aggravating witnesses,” followed by the conclusion of Valdez’s testimony. 

Ultimately, the panel of three attorneys hearing the case must determine whether they believe Valdez violated any of four professional rules of conduct as charged in the formal complaint against her. 

The panel could recommend that Valdez face censure, probation, suspension for a definite or indefinite period of time, or disbarment. If any of those things happen, the disciplinary administrator must docket the case with the Kansas Supreme Court. 

Angermayer said in his opening statements Monday that he and his client believe that a public censure would be an appropriate remedy in the case. 

A Kansas Supreme Court hearing is not required if the panel imposes an informal admonition, imposes no discipline or dismisses the case, unless the disciplinary administrator or respondent files a written objection. 

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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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Douglas County DA shares regrets in day 2 of disciplinary hearing

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Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez became tearful as she repeatedly apologized and expressed how embarrassed she was to be sitting in her disciplinary hearing Tuesday afternoon. 


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