Still no report, timeline for complaint case against Douglas County DA as election looms

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A disciplinary complaint case against Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez is still up in the air about two months after a hearing on the matter. 

The timing of the case is somewhat concerning for Douglas County voters as the outcome of the complaint case could affect Valdez’s ability to serve as DA. 

The complaint was initiated almost three years ago by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator after Douglas County District Court’s chief judge reached out for guidance regarding Valdez’s conduct. 

Specifically, Valdez made some public statements that called the judge’s integrity into question — and by extension, the integrity of the entire court, some witnesses testified. Just two months after Valdez took office in January 2021, she issued a press release that implied the judge had falsely asserted that her office was on board with a plan to resume holding jury trials in April 2021 after trials had long been on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A special prosecutor filed a formal complaint against Valdez in August 2023.

A panel of three attorneys heard testimony, including from Valdez, over the course of a three-day hearing in December. They are tasked with weighing the evidence in the case and compiling a final hearing report, and the report will include their recommendations for discipline.

The panel attorneys did not provide a timeline back in December for when they expected to issue a final hearing report, nor has there been any clarity in the time since. Readers have asked this publication for updates on the case, and the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator plans to send the panel’s report to the Times once it has been filed.

The special prosecutor on the case asked the panel to impose a one-year suspension of Valdez’s law license. Valdez’s attorney said he believed a public censure was the appropriate remedy. 

The panel may recommend no discipline or an informal admonition; if they do, the case would not be docketed with the Kansas Supreme Court. If the panel recommends public censure, probation, suspension, disbarment or any other discipline they determine to be appropriate, the case will be docketed for the Kansas Supreme Court to hear arguments, and that court would make the final decision in the case.

Valdez provided a statement Friday via a spokesperson for her office. 

“While I have no way of knowing when the opinion will be issued, certain facts remain unchanged: I am the District Attorney, my office is steadfast in its mission to ensure that Douglas County remains a safe and just community, and I have filed for re-election in 2024,” she said. “Our 2021 and 2022 annual reports highlight some of the many initiatives this office has accomplished under my leadership, and our 2023 report is being produced. So, it’s business as usual in the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office.”

Upcoming election

As of early January, there were 20 pending disciplinary cases against attorneys in Kansas that had reached the stage of a formal complaint being filed and a review committee directing that the cases should proceed to a hearing.

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At that time, Valdez’s case and two others were awaiting decisions from their respective hearing panels. Five other cases were awaiting oral arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court; one of them is docketed to be heard at the end of March. The Kansas Supreme Court had heard oral arguments in four cases; the court has since issued decisions in three of those four.

None of the 19 other attorneys are listed in the state directory as elected district or county attorneys, nor working as prosecutors.

Although a few months still remain, the filing deadline to run for district attorney is approaching in early June.

So far, one other candidate — Tonda Hill, a Democrat from Lawrence — has filed to run against Valdez. She is currently an assistant district attorney in Wyandotte County. 

Valdez has also filed to run as a Democrat, so there will be an Aug. 6 primary election. No Republicans had filed for the office as of Friday.

Read more about the backstory and see coverage of the three-day hearing at the links below.

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

The special prosecutor called aggravating and rebuttal witnesses to testify in Day 3 of the hearing; read more at this link

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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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Still no report, timeline for complaint case against Douglas County DA as election looms

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A disciplinary complaint case against Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez is still up in the air about two months after a hearing on the matter. 

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