Hearing panel recommends Douglas County DA receive censure in disciplinary complaint case

Share this post or save for later

Post updated at 10:17 a.m. Tuesday, April 23:

A panel of attorneys have released their final report on a complaint against the Douglas County district attorney, and they’re recommending she receive a public censure.

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

The primary issues at the heart of the hearings are the public and private communications Valdez made about or to Chief Douglas County District Judge James McCabria: press releases, a Facebook post and some text messages. The disciplinary panel of three attorneys had to determine whether they believed Valdez violated four professional rules of conduct. 

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

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 attorneys, in their report, agreed with Valdez’s attorney.

“District Attorney Valdez and our office remain steadfast in our mission to pursue justice and ensure public safety,” Cheryl Cadue, a spokesperson for the DA’s office, said via email Tuesday morning. “Our work continues as it has every day since District Attorney Valdez was elected.”

The panel attorneys wrote that the complaint prosecutor’s case must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, which is generally considered about 75% confidence that something happened the way it’s presented. It’s a lower burden than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is what must be proved in criminal cases.

“(M)uch of the evidence was too vague or conclusory for the panel to rely on it as clear and convincing,” the report states.


Altogether, the special prosecutor’s complaint charged that Valdez violated these Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct:

 8.2 (a): “A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer, or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office.”
 3.5 (d): A lawyer shall not “engage in undignified or discourteous conduct degrading to a tribunal.”
• 8.4 (d): “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to … engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;” and
• 8.4 (g): “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to … engage in any other conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law.”

The panel’s report gives a summary of the testimony the panel heard in December before detailing their conclusions. (Read more from the hearing at these links: Day 1; Day 2; Day 3)

The panel attorneys concluded that Valdez had violated Rule 3.5(d) twice — first with a news release, and again with a Facebook post.

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. 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 issued a statement in response saying that she was not consulted about the decision to resume jury trials, 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.”

Valdez had shared that statement 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!!” 

“Respondent engaged in undignified or discourteous conduct degrading to Judge McCabria and the legal system when she publicly called Judge McCabria’s credibility into question in her second press release,” the panel’s report states. “In addition, Respondent’s Facebook post about an ‘insecure man’ was clearly directed at Judge McCabria. Respondent’s comments about Judge McCabria were not made in the course of a zealous attorney making a point to a judge about a factual finding or ruling. Rather, they were personal comments that would be inappropriate even during a closed-door meeting with a judge. … Respondent exhibited a reckless disregard for the negative impact her comments would have on others and the judicial system.”

The panel attorneys wrote that the special prosecutor did not meet the burden of proof to show that Valdez had violated other rules of professional conduct.

However, they wrote that Valdez had violated her duty and caused actual injury to the legal system, the legal profession and the public as a result of her comments about McCabria. They wrote that she knowingly violated her duties and had time to reflect on and consider the language in her press release and Facebook post.

The panel attorneys wrote that Valdez had denied any rule violations, “choosing instead to characterize her comments as unprofessional,” but that she had expressed remorse and indicated she was sorry, regretful and humiliated.


They wrote that the COVID-19 pandemic completely disrupted normal operations of the court system, “causing stress and uncertainty that may have contributed to the impetuous and regrettable tone of her statements.” They also wrote that Deputy DA Joshua Seiden testified that the former district attorney had not cooperated during the transition period, “causing (Valdez) to be less prepared for the difficult situation (COVID-19 challenges and being understaffed) when she assumed office in January 2021.”

“While not excusing any of the Respondent’s behavior, the Hearing Panel believes that those circumstances do offer some explanation and context which should be taken into account in formulating their recommendations regarding sanctions,” according to the report.

The report states that although the panel attorneys highly respect the many witnesses who testified, including multiple judges, much of the testimony was vague or conclusory.

“Had the standard of proof been different, the panel’s factual findings may have been different,” they wrote.

They recommend that Valdez be censured, and that the censure be published in the Kansas Reports. They also assessed costs against Valdez “in an amount to be certified by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator.”

Since the panel recommended public censure, the case will be docketed for the Kansas Supreme Court to hear arguments, and that court will make the final decision in the case.

Valdez has filed for reelection and, as of Tuesday morning, one challenger, Tonda Hill, had also filed to run as a Democrat. The deadline to file to run for office is noon Monday, June 3, and the primary election is set for Tuesday, Aug. 6.

If our local journalism matters to you, please help us keep doing this work.
Don’t miss a beat … Click here to sign up for our email newsletters

Click here to learn more about our newsletters first

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.

More coverage:

Hearing panel recommends Douglas County DA receive censure in disciplinary complaint case

Share this post or save for later

A panel of attorneys have released their final report on a complaint against the Douglas County district attorney, and they’re recommending she receive a public censure.


Latest Lawrence news:


Previous Article

Lawrence school district to apply for grant to hire school-based social workers

Next Article

Kansas governor signs law providing flexible enrollment calculations for school funding