Monday, May 07, 2007

Kansas: The 1991 censure of Phill Kline's new domestic violence chief & other worries

By Diane Silver

The Kansas City Star today explored the public censure of Sue Carpenter, who took over the Johnson County domestic violence unit after new District Attorney Phill Kline fired the former chief.

I have to admit to being of two minds about this story. I knew about this more than a week ago and decided to sit on it until I could investigate it in depth. I'm pleased to see that the Star put some time into the story. I hadn't, yet, been able to look into this. The Star raises some valid issues and does a good job of looking at all of what happened.

I can see why this incident is worrisome. It ended in an overturned conviction and Shawnee County having to pay $250,000 to the wronged defendant. The Star reports:

In an interview this week, the president of the Johnson County Bar Association said the censure was a concern to many.

“Whenever someone spends two years in custody and it (the case) gets reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct and then not refiled, you’ve got to worry about their (the prosecutor’s) decision-making abilities and the exercise of their discretion. And we are worried,” said Scott Gyllenborg, a defense attorney and a former Johnson County prosecutor.

The factor that makes me unwilling to scream about this, though, is that this event occurred 16 years ago. Obviously, serious mistakes were made in 1991, but then again, I remember committing more than few idiocies in my career. Thank goodness, none of them sent anyone to jail.

What worries me more is the fact that a respected and experienced assistant DA who, as far as I know, was never censured was let go. I'm also concerned by a little throw-away paragraph in the middle of the story. It reads:

Carpenter was an assistant district attorney in Shawnee County from 1979 to 1993, according to that county. She also spent about two years working for Tomes & Dvorak, Chartered, of Overland Park.

I suspect I'm missing something. Perhaps a bit of information got cut out of the story, but what I'd like to know is whether Carpenter was working as an attorney recently. I hesitate to make much out of this because I haven't had a chance to check on it myself or to check with reporter Diane Carroll, but something is not quite right with that paragraph.

If it is reporting on ALL of Carpenter's experience as a lawyer, then what has she been doing recently? If her two years as a private practice attorney came immediately after her work in the Shawnee County DA's office, then Carpenter hasn't practiced as an attorney since 1995 or 1996.

Is this true? Or am I reading this wrong? Inquiring minds want to know.

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