Archive for Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Attorneys tout experience, ideas in race for DA

July 28, 2004


One says he has more experience. The other says he has more innovative ideas.

The Democratic primary for district attorney pits a 23-year legal veteran and former assistant prosecutor, Martin Miller, against Charles Branson, a relative newcomer who says he's an alternative to the status quo.

The winner will take on the incumbent, Republican Christine Kenney, who both Branson and Miller say isn't spending enough time in court prosecuting cases herself.

Both Branson and Miller are Lawrence attorneys in private practice.

Miller, 56, has been court-appointed attorney for some of the county's most high-profile violent criminals in recent years. He said his years of experience -- including 11 years in the District Attorney's Office -- made him better qualified than Branson.

"I've handled the whole gamut of criminal cases on both sides," he said. "Just in the last 15 months, I've had 10 jury trials ranging from first-degree murder down to batteries."

Miller was fired from the District Attorney's Office in 1996 because of what he said were political reasons. He ran for the office as an independent that year and won 12 percent of the vote.

Miller said the District Attorney's Office needed to do a better job communicating with different departments and needed more consistency in its decisions on which cases to take to trial.

Branson, 34, said Miller would bring "more of the same" to the office. Branson is emphasizing two main changes he wants to make: Creating a consumer division to tackle fraud cases and improving the services for victims and witnesses who are called to testify.

Date of birth: Dec. 30, 1969Occupation: Private-practice attorneyPolitical experience: noneFamily: Married, two childrenReligion: ChristianAddress: 1027 R.I.Key issues: Wants to devote one attorney and one staff member to start a consumer-protection division within the District Attorney's Office. Wants to improve the services for crime victims and witnesses who testify in court. Believes the district attorney should spend more time in the courtroom.

"I'm the only candidate that's putting forth any new ideas for that office," said Branson, who's been practicing law for about eight years.

The way the system works now, consumer complaints in Douglas County are referred to the Kansas Attorney General's Office. Branson wants to assign one attorney and one staff member to consumer protection full-time -- something he said could be done without hiring more people.

Branson says resources in the office aren't being used efficiently because Kenney and the charging attorney, Mark Knight, usually don't appear in court themselves. Kenney says she and Knight already have their hands full behind the scenes reviewing cases and running the office.

Even though Miller has more years of experience, Branson said he had more experience in civil litigation. He's also represented violent criminals as a court-appointed defense attorney.

Date of birth: April 11, 1948Occupation: Private-practice attorneyPolitical experience: Ran for district attorney in 1996 as an independentFamily: Married; three children from a previous marriageReligion: CatholicAddress: 3008 University DriveKey issues: Believes criminal cases should be handled with consistency; wants to improve communication between the District Attorney's Office and other departments; believes the district attorney should spend more time in court.

Branson said his job as part-time Eudora city prosecutor has helped give him crime-fighting experience. He prosecutes traffic infractions and some misdemeanors, and he negotiated a contract with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office to start housing inmates from Eudora at the county jail.

Miller said it was "puffery" to equate the work of Eudora city prosecutor with the work of district attorney. He doesn't think there are enough fraud complaints in Douglas County to justify Branson's plan to start a consumer-protection office.

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