Citizen grand jury disbands in Kobach case without returning indictment
photo by: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Story updated at 5:39 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, 2019:
A citizen-initiated grand jury that was impaneled in January to investigate alleged election-related crimes by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office has adjourned without bringing an indictment, according to a court document in the case.
After reviewing the citizen petition, exhibits and testimony of witnesses, the grand jury found “no cognizable crime under the laws of the State of Kansas,” said the document, obtained Wednesday by the Journal-World.
Otherwise, as with any type of grand jury, the panel’s proceedings were secret and closed to the public, from jury selection to investigative actions it may have taken.
Steven Davis, the Lawrence resident who petitioned to convene the grand jury, said Wednesday that he was disappointed in the outcome but that he respected the process.
“I definitely understand their decision, and it was their decision to make,” Davis said. “My goal over the past few years was to get this matter before the grand jury; after that, it was in their hands.”
In his calls for the grand jury, Davis had alleged that Kobach’s office failed to properly register a number of voters in 2016 who applied for registration while renewing their driver’s licenses or filling out an online form through the Kansas Department of Revenue’s website.
After the grand jury was selected, Davis delivered a roughly 30-minute presentation, answered a few questions and left the courtroom, he said. He did not reappear before the grand jury and, like the general public, was not privy to anything that went on.
Davis said Wednesday that he still believed Kobach’s office did mishandle voter registration, but he acknowledged that he didn’t know what findings the grand jury investigation may have made.
“I don’t know what they know, and it may be that they found some things out that I wasn’t aware of,” he said. “If the grand jury doesn’t believe that it rose to the level of criminal negligence, again, that’s their prerogative.”
The Journal-World was unable to reach Kobach late Wednesday.
Kobach’s office previously called Davis’ allegations “patently false” and accused him of using the petition process for political gain. Davis had run, unsuccessfully, as a Democrat for the Kansas House of Representatives in 2016 and 2018.
Kobach’s office said the allegations concerned a brief period in 2016 when online registration systems were malfunctioning and that election officials at both the state and county levels had worked quickly to make sure the affected voters were able to cast their ballots.
Citizen-initiated grand juries are somewhat unusual, both nationally and locally.
Kansas is one of only a handful of states that allow them.
While state law allows a grand jury to request a special prosecutor, in this case Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson assisted with the jury’s investigation. District Court Judge Kay Huff selected the jury and oversaw proceedings.
Before this, Douglas County had not summoned a grand jury of any kind in at least 20 years, according to Douglas Hamilton, clerk of the District Court.
— Journal-World reporter Dylan Lysen contributed to this story.