Kobach Sanctioned For Misconduct In Voting Rights Case, But Not Found 'Dishonest'

Oct 29, 2019
Originally published on October 29, 2019 1:30 am

TOPEKA, Kansas — Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach agreed to legal sanctions to resolve a disciplinary complaint about his conduct in a voting rights case he lost last year.

As part of the resulting diversion agreement made public Monday, Kobach admitted that he did not properly supervise lawyers and others on his staff while contesting a lawsuit that challenged how he carried out a new voter ID law.

The Kansas Office of the Disciplinary Administrator said there was no finding of dishonest conduct on Kobach’s part.

Typically, referrals to the attorney diversion program are confidential. But in this case, the parties agreed to disclose that Kobach had entered into the diversion agreement on Oct. 10 and that Kobach had admitted to the two disciplinary violations — his failure to oversee his lawyers and to supervise his other staff in the case.

Kobach, who is campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

But a former spokeswoman for Kobach’s gubernatorial campaign and the Kansas Secretary of State’s office, Danedri Herbert, said in an email, “As the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator stated, ‘There was no finding of dishonest conduct on the part of Mr. Kobach.’ That was the central allegation of the complaint, which was obviously politically motivated.”

At least two people filed disciplinary complaints over Kobach’s conduct during the voting rights trial: Topeka resident Keri Strahler and Overland Park attorney Matthew Hoppock.

Stan Hazlett, who heads the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, said the diversion agreement came in response to Strahler’s 2017 complaint.

“It’s an alternative to the traditional disciplinary process,” Hazlett told the Kansas News Service. “If the diversion is successfully completed, then the case is dismissed.”

Hazlett declined to state what the diversion program would involve, citing confidentiality. He also declined to say whether his office investigated Kobach’s conduct in additional complaints.

The League of Women voters and others sued Kobach in his role of secretary of state after he led a drive to enact a strict voter registration law in Kansas requiring documentary proof of citizenship.

After a two-week-long trial, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson found the law unconstitutional. Kobach, a Yale Law School graduate who once taught constitutional law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, acted as lead attorney for his office in the case.

Robinson also sanctioned Kobach, who helped lead President Donald Trump’s now-disbanded voter fraud commission, by ordering him to take six hours of legal training on the rules of evidence for “repeated and flagrant violations of discovery and disclosure rules.”

Robinson also held Kobach in contempt for failing to fully register and notify eligible voters that he’d blocked their registrations.

Before that, a federal magistrate judge fined Kobach $1,000 after finding he had deceived the court about the nature of documents he was photographed taking into a November 2016 meeting with then-President-elect Trump.

Strahler said she wanted “some public acknowledgement that there was misconduct.”

“And even if it’s just a diversion, it’s still a public acknowledgement that he was wrong and he needs to get help,” she said.

Hoppock, an immigration attorney who had no involvement in the trial but followed news accounts of the case, said last year he was duty-bound to file his complaint as an officer of the court.

In a series of tweets at the time, Hoppock claimed Kobach had violated at least four Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct.

“I was shocked by what I read about what happened in that trial,” Hoppock said. “And so I think it was important to me that if did rise to the level of misconduct, that official channels were gone through, so that something could be done about it.”

Nomin Ujiyediin reports on criminal justice and social welfare for the Kansas News Service.  Follow her on Twitter @NominUJ or email nomin (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.  Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

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