KU law professor wins primary race for Douglas County district attorney, ousts longtime incumbent Branson

photo by: Journal-World file photo; contributed photo

Pictured at right is Suzanne Valdez, incoming Douglas County district attorney. At left is the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

Story updated at 11:10 p.m. Tuesday:

A University of Kansas law professor who has called for more transparency and equity in criminal prosecutions has unseated the longtime Douglas County District Attorney.

Suzanne Valdez posted a comfortable victory in a three-way Democratic primary on Tuesday night, winning nearly 40% of the vote, according to unofficial vote totals, while incumbent Charles Branson finished third, with less than 30% of all votes.

The three candidates — Cooper Overstreet, a Lawrence defense attorney, Valdez, a University of Kansas law professor and special prosecutor for Wyandotte County, and incumbent Branson all ran as Democrats.

Valdez led the race by about 1,170 votes as of 11:10 p.m. Tuesday, with 6,576, or 39.8%. Overstreet came in second, with 5,407 votes or 32.7%. Branson finished third with 4,562, or 27.6%.

After the results of Tuesday’s primary election — barring a successful write-in campaign — Valdez, 51, will likely be elected district attorney in the November general election and be sworn in early next year.

Branson had not faced an opponent since he was first elected in 2004.

Forums during the last couple of months had at times become a heated as candidates pointed out perceived shortcomings or questioned past actions of their opponents.

Fundraising did not prove to be a strong predictor of who would win the race. As the Journal-World reported, Branson was leading the race to raise campaign funds. Between Jan. 1 and July 23, Branson’s campaign raised $23,243. Overstreet was not far behind with $19,681, and Valdez came in third with $11,850.

In her campaign, Valdez called for more transparency in the DA’s office. She said she wants to create uniform policies on how cases are handled, where currently she said there is “a chaotic system where people don’t know what expectations are, what needs to be done to properly prosecute and put people through the criminal justice system in a fair and equitable way.”

Valdez had drawn criticism from some in the Democratic party who were concerned about her recent flip from the Republican party. However, Valdez explained that she had been a “Bob Dole Republican” and that she has “a social justice heart.” She said she hoped her record would speak for itself.

She is currently employed as a clinical professor at the KU School of Law. As a special prosecutor for the Wyandotte County DA’s office, she handles cases that involve a conflict of interest — for instance, if a victim were related to someone in the DA’s office — in order to be fair and impartial.

Valdez could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night. Her campaign manager, Zachary Thomason, told the Journal-World she had stepped away from her phone to spend the evening with her family.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact public safety reporter Mackenzie Clark:

More 2020 election coverage: Douglas County district attorney race

July 29, 2020: FAQs and fact-checks in the race for Douglas County district attorney

July 28, 2020: Campaign finance reports: Incumbent leads fundraising in district attorney race; captain raises most money in race for sheriff

July 23, 2020: Douglas County district attorney candidates answer colleagues’ questions, address experience in bar forum

July 19, 2020: 2020 Primary Voters Guide: Meet the candidates for Douglas County district attorney

July 11, 2020: In NAACP forum, candidates for Douglas County district attorney share laws they want to see changed

July 9, 2020: Candidates for Douglas County district attorney address racial disparities, anti-Blackness

July 8, 2020: Douglas County sheriff, district attorney candidate forums to focus on issues specific to people of color, LGBTQ+ communities

June 23, 2020: Candidates for Douglas County district attorney trade barbs in Democratic party forum

June 22, 2020: Douglas County district attorney candidates share views on law enforcement misconduct, needed changes

May 1, 2020: Incumbent Douglas County district attorney: Experience, leadership are needed to create change

April 28, 2020: District Attorney Charles Branson files for reelection in 2020

April 21, 2020: KU law professor, prosecutor Valdez: Douglas County district attorney’s office lacks leadership, clear policies

April 20, 2020: Lawrence defense attorney Overstreet: Fairness, transparency missing from Douglas County criminal justice system

April 16, 2020: Two Democrats file to run for Douglas County district attorney


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