Prosecutor asks panel to suspend Douglas County DA’s law license after day 3 of disciplinary hearing

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Valdez ‘absolutely’ plans to run for reelection next year, she says

TOPEKA — Attorneys hearing a disciplinary case against Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez must decide whether to recommend the Kansas Supreme Court censure her, suspend her law license or impose any other consequences. 

There is no firm timeline for the panel to come to a decision in Valdez’s case. 

But at the conclusion of a three-day hearing on Wednesday, special prosecutor Kimberly Bonifas asked the panel to consider whether they believe the testimony of Valdez and Deputy DA Joshua Seiden, or that of the other 13 witnesses who testified. 

In her closing arguments, Bonifas asked the panel to impose a one-year suspension of Valdez’s law license. Stephen Angermayer, Valdez’s attorney, told the panel he believed a public censure was the appropriate remedy. 

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. 

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. 

The primary issues at the heart of the hearings are the public and private communications Valdez made about or to McCabria: press releases, a Facebook post and some text messages. 

The disciplinary panel of three attorneys must determine whether they believe Valdez violated four professional rules of conduct. 

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

Valdez shared some regrets in Day 2 of the hearing; read more at this link

‘We can’t believe this has happened’

Much of the first two days of testimony focused on the harm witnesses said Valdez’s actions have caused the Douglas County criminal legal system. Douglas County judges and former DA’s office employees shared how they were shocked, and how the relationship between the bench and the bar has been chilled. 

Though Seiden’s testimony on Tuesday painted a cheerier picture of the situation, two additional judges on Wednesday said collaboration between the DA’s office and the court has “just fallen apart,” and how “this process is a black cloud.”

Judge Sally Pokorny testified that she has known McCabria for nearly 30 years, and that he’s one of the kindest men she’s met in her life. He’s not used to attacks on his person or his character “because there really isn’t any reason” for anyone to attack him, she said. 

“This has torn him apart,” Pokorny said. She said she thinks McCabria is especially devastated about the effect the situation has had on the courts and on the judges’ ability to proceed “calmly and rationally” with their duties. 

She said the judges previously used to meet for about an hour over the lunch hour once a month, with about half of that hour focused on business. Now their meetings are longer, and they’re devoted to deciding how to respond to things and deal with issues. 

“We can’t believe this has happened,” Pokorny said of the judges’ conversations. “… We can’t believe this is the world we’re living in.” 

There is no trust between the bench and the DA, Pokorny said. She said she has a pretty wide circle of friends who aren’t attorneys, and she can hardly go three days without someone asking her what’s going on with the DA’s office. 

“It has permeated wide and far in Douglas County,” Pokorny said. 


Judge Stacey Donovan said the judges feel as though there’s a black cloud hanging over their heads because they feel they must constantly operate with an abundance of caution.

Donovan said the judges try to avoid meeting with Valdez alone. They prefer to have all communication with her in writing because they’re worried that their words will get twisted. 

They’ll share draft email responses with each other before they send them to edit and ensure they’re as clear and inoffensive as possible, because they never know what is going to “set off something else.” 

“Everything is handled with kid gloves,” she said. 

Donovan in March 2022 removed the prosecutor from one criminal case. The DA’s office had attempted to find a special prosecutor from other offices around the area and asked the state attorney general’s office to handle the case. They couldn’t, and there were about 40 days when the case had no prosecutor, Donovan said. 

“They didn’t want to deal with the respondent?” Bonifas asked. 

“That was what was said to me,” Donovan answered. 

She said she believes Valdez’s conduct has eroded the public’s trust in the judicial system. Donovan said people ask the judges about the situation all the time, and they have dreaded going to judicial conferences since the issues began. 

“It’s uncomfortable; it’s embarrassing,” she said. 

‘I stand by that release’

Valdez’s testimony continued Wednesday, and Bonifas cross-examined her. 

McCabria had announced in a news release March 18, 2021 that jury trials would resume the following month. The release quoted representatives of the sheriff’s office and public health officials. 

McCabria testified Monday that the release was intended to assure the public that they would be safe from both health and security perspectives when they were summoned as jurors. He said he did not intend to address whether attorneys were ready to proceed to trial.

But the release stated that “We’ve consulted with all of the stakeholders,” which Valdez said implied that her office was complicit in the plan to resume jury trials in April 2021. 

Valdez’s office a few days later issued a statement saying that she was not consulted about that decision, she had concerns about the safety and security of the fairgrounds buildings, and “To suggest that he (McCabria) and I met personally or consulted about the jury trial plan, or that he invited or asked for my or my office’s input is simply false. … Unfortunately, this is yet another example of how an outspoken and honest woman is mischaracterized as untruthful by a male in power.”

Emails McCabria provided back in March 2021 and testimony over the course of this hearing confirmed that Valdez and some of her employees had met with McCabria on two occasions, in late February and early March 2021. Those meetings centered on concerns about jury trials, the March meeting in particular regarding safety and security issues. 

“To this day, I stand by that release. All of that is accurate,” Valdez said Wednesday, noting that the release could have been crafted differently. 

Valdez had shared that 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!!” 

Of the post, Valdez said Wednesday “That was stupid,” and that she had already apologized for it Tuesday.

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‘I had to defend myself’

Bonifas questioned Valdez about her formal answer to the complaint, which she filed Sept. 5. 

The formal complaint Bonifas filed alleged that Valdez’s behind-the-scenes response to the conflict over jury trials essentially created a toxic work environment for employees. It said many employees left the office “in part or in whole, because of the Respondent’s unprofessional conduct.” Three former employees testified to that effect in this hearing, and another was deposed earlier this month.

Bonifas asked Valdez why roughly 11 pages of her answer focused on making allegations against former employees. 

Valdez said as DA, people had been asking her to comment, and that she had to defend herself against what she said she thought were “very, very untruthful allegations.” 

Valdez said she had asked Bonifas not to include the former employees in the complaint and the process. She said the process had been difficult, and she didn’t want more people to be involved than those who had to. That was why she hadn’t called any witnesses other than Seiden to testify on her behalf, she said.


The full answer was also posted publicly to the district attorney’s website. 

“They’re attorneys. That could harm their reputations, correct?” Bonifas asked.

“Of course, but this complaint is harmful to my reputation,” Valdez responded. 

Bonifas said the formal answer also contained more derogatory comments about McCabria. She asked how Valdez’s answer including that she was “uncomfortable” around McCabria responded to questions about text messages from two years prior.

“It is what it is. It speaks for itself,” Valdez said of the answer. 

“I agree,” Bonifas responded. 

What’s next? 

The disciplinary panel — which includes Stacy L. Ortega as presiding officer, Gaye Tibbets and Sylvia B. Penner, all attorneys with Wichita-based firms — will now weigh the evidence in the case and compile a final hearing report.

The report will include the panel’s recommendations for discipline.

The panel may recommend no discipline or an informal admonition. If so, the case would not be docketed with the Kansas Supreme Court. 

If the panel recommends public censure, as Angermayer requested; probation; suspension, as Bonifas requested; disbarment; or any other discipline determined to be appropriate, the case will be docketed for the Kansas Supreme Court to hear oral argument. 

Rules of the Kansas Supreme Court do not prescribe a firm timeline for when that report must be completed. 

Meanwhile, Valdez confirmed on her way out of the hearing that she “absolutely” intends to run for reelection in 2024. She declined to comment further. 

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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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Prosecutor asks panel to suspend Douglas County DA’s law license after day 3 of disciplinary hearing

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The prosecutor handling a complaint against Douglas County DA Suzanne Valdez asked a disciplinary panel Wednesday to consider whether they believe the testimony of Valdez and her deputy, or that of the other 13 witnesses who testified. 


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