Panel says investigation into DA Valdez was fair; complaint involving how she behaved to local judges will not be dismissed
photo by: Contributed Photo
The disciplinary panel overseeing an ethics hearing for the Douglas County district attorney ruled on Wednesday that the investigation was conducted in a fair and neutral way, and the complaint involving how she behaved to local judges will not be dismissed.
District Attorney Suzanne Valdez requested that the complaint by a special prosecutor accusing her of attorney misconduct be dismissed on the grounds that it wasn’t conducted in a neutral manner, namely that a former employee of hers who now works for the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator was improperly involved in the investigation. The special prosecutor, however, responded to Valdez’s motion by indicating that the employee was not improperly involved in the investigation.
The special prosecutor, Kimberly Bonifas, of Wichita, also took issue with Valdez’s timing in requesting a whole new investigation if the complaint weren’t dismissed.
“The Respondent (Valdez) has had 2 1/2 years to provide all of her responses, witnesses, and documents. Therefore, requesting to start over two days before the Complaint filing is unreasonable,” Bonifas wrote in her response.
She further argued that Valdez would have ample opportunity to present her case at a two-day hearing scheduled for Oct. 12-13 in Topeka.
The disciplinary panel denied Valdez’s motion, which was filed by her attorney, Stephen Angermayer, concluding that “the investigations by the original investigator and by the special prosecutor are independent and neutral and that a fair hearing will continue as scheduled.”
A pre-hearing conference on the Valdez complaint is scheduled for Sept. 19. The conference and the October hearing will be open to the public. Valdez will be entitled to be represented by counsel, to present evidence and to cross-examine witnesses. After the hearing, a panel will determine whether Valdez should be disciplined.
As the Journal-World previously reported, the special prosecutor, Bonifas, was appointed in the case because of a conflict in the ODA.
Bonifas filed a complaint arguing that Valdez had violated four sections of the state code that governs attorney conduct: making a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge; engaging in undignified or discourteous conduct degrading to a tribunal; engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice; and engaging in any other conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law.
Bonifas’ complaint states that Valdez called Douglas County Chief Judge James McCabria a liar and a sexist, implied that he was racist (because she is Hispanic), sent him inappropriate texts and yelled and cursed about him to the extent that multiple attorneys in her office resigned under the stress.
The complaint alleges that the atmosphere in Valdez’s office was so “negative” and stressful that “After several months, only one attorney remained” with the DA’s Office from prior to her being sworn in on Jan. 11, 2021.
Valdez continued the inappropriate behavior, including instances of refusing to cooperate with district judges, even after an investigation had begun into her conduct, Bonifas’ complaint states.
The complaint became public earlier this month after more than two years of investigations by the ODA, which works under the direction of the Kansas Supreme Court to review and investigate complaints of misconduct against attorneys.
The Journal-World asked Valdez in September 2022 if a complaint had been filed against her involving her relationship with local judges, and she declined to comment, saying that “anyone can file a complaint, and nine out of 10 complaints are frivolous.”
Since she has been in office the ODA has handled other complaints against her, including one from Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister over an evidence policy and one from a woman over the failure of Valdez’s office to notify rape survivors of a sentencing hearing in their case. The complaint by the sheriff was dismissed, but a letter of caution was issued to Valdez, and the complaint by the rape survivor was dismissed, but the ODA acknowledged that Valdez’s office had made a “mistake” and that the rape survivor was “rightfully upset.”
Valdez, 54, is a Democrat who was elected in November 2020.