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Archive for Monday, July 8, 2002

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July 8, 2002

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Craig Bland decided a year ago he was going to do whatever he could to remove Judge Janette Sheldon from the bench.

Bland of Bonner Springs said he was stunned last year when Sheldon, a Johnson County District Court judge, suddenly decided to place a teenager on probation for five years for killing Bland's sister-in-law, Felicia Bland of Lawrence, while driving drunk.

"It's nothing personal  I just want her off the bench," Bland said.

In March 2001, Sheldon sentenced Sean M. Scott, then 17, to 2 1/2 years in the state Juvenile Correction Center in Topeka for involuntary manslaughter. But she reversed herself in August 2001 during a hearing on a motion for reconsideration filed by the Shawnee boy's attorneys.

A few days ago, as part of his campaign to have the judge unseated, Bland launched a Web site detailing the case history of Felicia Bland's death. It describes how Scott, 16 on the day of the accident, spent the day drinking in Lawrence while attending a Kansas University football game.

Here's what the Kansas Highway Patrol said happened next: About 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 16, 2000, Scott was heading home from Lawrence, driving east on Kansas Highway 10. Felicia Bland, 39, also was on her way home, returning to Lawrence from work in Lenexa. Scott lost control of his car. It crossed the median and struck Felicia Bland's car.

Tests showed Scott's alcohol content was 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit.

Sheldon did not return phone calls seeking comment last week, and Bland said he didn't know whether she was aware of the Web site. He said he intended to send her a letter about it.

"I'm not a person who stabs you in the back," Bland said.

Sheldon is up for re-election in 2004. Johnson County has nonpartisan elections for judges. Voters decide if they want to retain a judge.

The purpose of his campaign, Bland said, is to have Sheldon resign, retire or be removed at the ballot box.

The Web site is just the first phase of Bland's campaign to oust Sheldon. He said he would become more active in campaigning against her as the election drew nearer.

James Bland, Felicia's husband, said he appreciated what his brother was doing. He said he's still upset about the judge's reversal, but stopped short of saying he wanted Sheldon ousted.

"I just think judges should think long and hard before they make a decision and then not change it later," he said. "Their decisions affect a lot of lives. To switch back and forth like that put both families on edge. There was no reason to do what she did."

Earlier this year James Bland filed a lawsuit against Scott, his parents, Kansas University and Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, seeking damages in excess of $75,000. The lawsuit alleges that Sean Scott's parents, Lawrence and Dana Rieke of Johnson County, provided the boy with alcohol, and that he was given alcohol at the fraternity. The case is pending.

Lawrence Rieke also faces a criminal charge in Douglas County for allegedly providing alcohol to a minor. That case also is pending.

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