Counsel for the panel overseeing the disciplinary complaint against DA Valdez recused

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez is pictured in District Court on July 24, 2023.

The counsel for the panel overseeing the disciplinary complaint against Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez has been recused from that position because Valdez named her as a witness in the proceeding at the last minute.

As a witness, the counsel, Krystal Vokins, will not be permitted in the hearing room while other witnesses are testifying and thus would not be able to perform her job as counsel to the panel, according to the order from the panel.

The job of counsel to the panel includes administrative duties 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 with the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys have ultimate control over.

Valdez claimed in her answer to Special Prosecutor Kimberly Bonifas’ complaint against her that Vokins was “best friends” with Alice Walker, a former employee of Valdez’s and a witness in the case against her; however, she did not request at that time that Vokins be recused. 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.

After Valdez made this “best friends” claim, which Walker and Vokins have denied, the panel hearing the case asked for the parties to file motions regarding whether Vokins should be recused. Valdez filed a motion arguing that she should be because of conflict of interest. Bonifas said she should not be, arguing among other things that 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.

photo by: Contributed

A screenshot of a pre-hearing Zoom conference on Sept. 19, 2023, in connection with an ethics complaint filed against Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez. From left, Stacy Ortega, hearing panel member; Krystal Vokins, counsel to the Kansas Board For Discipline of Attorneys; Gaye Tibbets, hearing panel member; Sylvia Penner, hearing panel member; Stephen Angermayer, counsel to Valdez; Kimberly Bonifas, special prosecutor; and Robin Schuyler, court reporter.

At the time of a pre-hearing conference last week, Valdez, who is represented by attorney Stephen Angermayer, had not filed her witness list. When she did file it later that day, the names of Vokins and Vokins’ husband, Tai Vokins, were on it, among many other names, including Disciplinary Administrator Gayle Larkin.

In its order of recusal the panel noted that Valdez “did not disclose that she intended to call” Krystal Vokins “in her original motion,” nor did she mention her “when specifically asked if there were additional matters pertaining to the recusal during the prehearing conference.”

Valdez did say in her original motion requesting recusal that Vokins’ husband, Tai Vokins, would be a witness in the case, along with Walker.

Bonifas had argued in her motion against recusal 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 of recusal after Valdez referred to Walker and the Vokinses in her answer to Bonifas’ original complaint.

The panel had decided at the pre-hearing conference that witnesses would be kept out of the hearing room unless they were testifying. Valdez’s naming of Vokins as a witness effectively would remove Vokins from the hearing and thus from performing her job duties. The panel noted in its order of recusal that it was for this reason alone that Vokins was being removed and not for any of the claims of conflict or bias that Valdez had leveled against Vokins.

The panel said in its order that the “undisclosed conflict will cause great inconvenience to the panel.” If the panel feels a replacement counsel is necessary, it will appoint one soon, the order said.

Valdez’s formal disciplinary hearing will otherwise go on as scheduled on Oct. 12-13 in Topeka. The in-person hearing will be public and will begin at 9:30 a.m. each day.

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.


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