Pointless politics

Now that Topeka and Shawnee County officials have made their points, the district attorney can quit grandstanding and get back to work

While Topeka and Shawnee County officials were busy making a point, potential domestic violence victims in Topeka were living in fear.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor made his point last month when he announced that because of budget cuts, his office no longer would prosecute misdemeanors, including domestic battery, that occur within the Topeka city limits. Those cases, he said, would have to be handled in Topeka’s municipal court. Taylor’s point was primarily directed at the Shawnee County Commission, which cut his office’s budget by about 10 percent this year. In an open letter released Tuesday, Taylor said he had warned commissioners that something like this would happen if the large budget cuts were implemented.

Tuesday night, members of the Topeka City Council voted to make their own point by repealing the city’s ordinance against domestic battery. Their point, which was directed at Taylor and perhaps county commissioners, is that it is the responsibility of the county, not the city, to enforce this law. They said that eliminating the city ordinance would boost their leverage to negotiate this matter with the D.A.’s office.

Once the city’s ordinance was eliminated, no negotiation was necessary. Taylor conceded on Wednesday that he has a statutory responsibility to handle the cases.

Since early September, Topeka has had at least 35 reported incidents of domestic battery or assault. Eighteen people who had been arrested in those cases were released from jail because the D.A. decided not to press charges against them. On Wednesday, Taylor said his office would review all misdemeanor domestic violence cases forwarded to it and decide on a case-by-case basis which ones to prosecute, so it remains to be seen how many of those 35 cases lead to prosecutions.

Allowing the domestic safety of Topeka residents to be used as a political football has drawn some well-deserved negative publicity for Topeka and Shawnee County. The City Council’s decision to repeal its domestic battery ordinance sent a horrible message to the people of Topeka, but Taylor bears primary responsibility for the manner in which he thrust this issue on the city. Taylor is right that some other Kansas cities take responsibility for prosecuting domestic battery cases. However, it seems likely that the arrangements in those locations have been carefully negotiated for the benefit of both the cities and counties involved. They weren’t instituted by the kind of unilateral action that Taylor sought to hand down.

The Shawnee County D.A.’s grandstanding certainly succeeded in drawing attention to himself and his office, but whether it results in additional funding remains to be seen. Either way, it’s a pretty safe bet that Topeka residents will be keeping a watchful eye on how aggressively the D.A. is pursuing prosecution of domestic violence cases in the county.