Special prosecutor disputes DA Valdez’s claim that board’s attorney has a conflict, argues against recusal
photo by: Journal-World File
The special prosecutor in a disciplinary case against Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez is objecting to Valdez’s motion that the attorney for the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys be recused, and she characterizes many of Valdez’s assertions in the matter as inaccurate.
Valdez’s attorney, Stephen Angermayer, filed a motion to have the board attorney, Krystal Vokins, recused based on Valdez’s allegations that Vokins is “best friends” with Alice Walker, a former employee of Valdez’s and a witness in the case against her. Walker, after leaving Valdez’s office in the spring of 2021, went to work for the Board for Discipline of Attorneys and is a co-worker of Vokins’, as the Journal-World has reported.
Special Prosecutor Kimberly Bonifas, in a response filed Monday, objected to a recusal, denying that Walker and Vokins are “best friends.” Rather, Bonifas wrote, the two were law school classmates who had lost contact over the years but who are currently friends because they work in the same office. Both Walker and Vokins, when interviewed by Bonifas, denied ever being best friends.
Bonifas also denied that Vokins’ husband, Tai Vokins, eagerly advocated for Walker, who was employed by Valdez’s predecessor, to be kept on at the DA’s office after Valdez won her primary election, as Valdez has asserted. Tai Vokins “doesn’t ever recall meeting” Valdez, Bonifas wrote, and he disputes “numerous allegations” made by Valdez in her motion.
Bonifas’ response says that she is not aware of any cases where such a recusal of a board attorney has been sought, noting that Vokins’ duties as counsel to the board include administrative matters like scheduling various matters and monitoring court filings, as well as legal duties such as ensuring that the board and its panels follow the legal process, assisting with procedural issues, and drafting hearing reports that the panel members have ultimate control over.
As to Tai Vokins, Bonifas wrote that he was not listed as a witness as of Monday and would be unlikely to be called as a witness. Bonifas’ witness list includes four sitting judges and four former employees in the DA’s office, as well as Valdez herself; her deputy DA, Joshua Seiden; and former Deputy Disciplinary Administrator Deborah Hughes, who lives out of state and will be allowed to testify via Zoom. Valdez’s witness list is due to the panel today.
In her role as counsel to the board and its panels, Vokins necessarily works with many people who are co-workers and/or friends, and that fact by itself is not a conflict, Bonifas wrote.
Bonifas also notes that Valdez was aware of Vokins’ role since the original disciplinary hearing was scheduled back in March and had not raised any objections in the months since — until the panel ordered that the parties weigh in on the matter after Valdez referred to Walker and the Vokinses in her answer to Bonifas’ original complaint, as the Journal-World reported.
If the panel decides to recuse Vokins from the Valdez matter, Bonifas has requested that the panel’s presiding officer work with the Office of Judicial Administration “to appoint a replacement with the expertise needed to serve as counsel to the hearing panel.”
On Tuesday, the three-person panel in the Valdez case held a pre-hearing conference via Zoom to take care of various matters ahead of the formal disciplinary hearing on Oct. 12-13. The panel decided, among other matters, that the October hearings would be in person and that the witnesses in the case would be sequestered from one another.
As the Journal-World has reported, the allegations against Valdez largely stem from her interactions with Douglas County Chief Judge James McCabria, including that she called him a liar and a sexist, implied that he was racist, sent him inappropriate texts saying he should be “ashamed” of himself, and that she yelled and cursed about him to the extent that multiple attorneys in her office resigned under the stress. Valdez has denied that she has acted unprofessionally and has attributed attorneys leaving her employ to their refusal to get on board with her running her office in a way that voters “commanded” when they elected her.