Topeka The Kansas Department of Corrections has filed an ethics complaint against an attorney who helped a reporter investigate illegal sexual relationships at a state prison for women.
In a complaint filed with the Office of Disciplinary Administrator, Charles Simmons, deputy secretary of corrections, alleges that attorney Keen Umbehr misrepresented the occupation of Tim Carpenter, a reporter for The Topeka Capital-Journal.
The newspaper has published several stories detailing illegal sexual relationships and contraband trafficking by employees and inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility.
The series led Gov. Mark Parkinson to ask for an outside investigation of the Corrections Department.
The Legislature’s auditing arm is conducting its own inquiry into the prison system.
Corrections spokesman Bill Miskell said the department’s protocols for reporters when they enter prisons are designed to keep its facilities secure.
“Basic to that responsibility is knowing who is entering our facilities and the purpose for them doing so,” he said.
Umbehr said he did not misrepresent Carpenter and had no legal obligation to tell prison officials the reporter’s identity.
He suggested the ethics complaint was in retaliation for his helping to “uncover a terrible human rights abuse.”
“This is done to chill and punish anyone else who might come forward with complaints of corruption,” he said.
Tomari Quinn, managing editor of The Capital-Journal, said Carpenter didn’t misrepresent himself in any way and complied with every request from prison employees.
Umbehr noted that the department’s complaint process began Oct. 6, 58 days after he and Carpenter visited the prison on Aug. 10, but two days after The Capital-Journal published its first story.
Miskell said the complaint was filed soon after the stories were published because that is how department officials learned of Carpenter’s jailhouse interview.
Prison employee Christine Brooks said in an affidavit that when Umbehr called on Aug. 7 and requested an attorney-client visit with two inmates, he identified Carpenter as his “legal assistant.”
Kansas rules of professional conduct for attorneys state a lawyer “shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person.”
Umbehr said he is sure he called Carpenter his “assistant,” not “legal assistant.”
He noted another section of the conduct rules says that a lawyer “has no affirmative duty to inform an opposing person of relevant facts.”
Miskell said if Umbehr had identified Carpenter as a news reporter, he would have been sent through the established protocol for media inquiries.
“The issue involving Mr. Carpenter’s means of access to the Topeka Correctional Facility has nothing to do with retaliation, but rather the apparent failure to comply with department policies and state law designed to promote the safety and security of the state’s correctional facilities,” he said.