The American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section has given Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston one of the more prestigious national honors any prosecutor can ever earn, association officials said.
Selection for the Norm Maleng Minister of Justice Award is made by prominent judges, lawyers, prosecutors, academics and others nationally in the 20,000-member criminal justice section. Foulston is being recognized for her body of work during the past 23 years, said William Shepherd, the Criminal Justice Section’s chairman-elect. It recognizes her as one of the more highly regarded and innovative professionals among 30,000 to 40,000 prosecutors in the nation, he said.
The annual award goes to a prosecutor who seeks justice and not merely convictions, said Jack Hanna, director of the Criminal Justice Section. “The criteria is, do they do justice, or do they just rack up convictions? Do they work as hard to exonerate the innocent as they work to convict the guilty? Do they look out for making sure justice is done? Are they innovative, and ethical?”
The award is a big deal, said Shepherd, an attorney who formerly served as the statewide prosecutor for the state of Florida.
“There are people you know who have made a name and a national reputation for themselves,” he said. “But most of them would not be a good fit for this award, because it’s not just an award for tactical and technical expertise; it’s also very much a professionalism award.”
Foulston is serving out the last year of her last term as district attorney; she isn’t seek re-election this year. Among cases she personally handled that got national recognition include the BTK serial killer case which concluded with Dennis Rader’s guilty plea in 2005, the Carr brothers trials stemming from their murder spree in 2000, the prosecution of Scott Roeder for killing abortion provider George Tiller in his church in 2009, and several death penalty cases.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” Foulston said of the award. “I was overwhelmed when I got the note about it.
It’s actually no surprise, said Anne Swern, the First Assistant District Attorney of Brooklyn, N.Y. As a member of the criminal justice council of the bar association, Swern took part in the award’s selection process. She said Foulston is highly regarded in the national criminal justice community for “substantive and extensive” contributions to national discussions about criminal justice issues.
Swern, who has worked with Foulston on some national issues, said Wichita has been lucky to have her. “She’s always working,” Swern said. “I’d get e-mails from her on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings; she’s always sending me substantive stuff, issues we deal with as prosecutors, matters with global legal implications.”
Foulston said the award is more a reflection of the quality and integrity of the people she nurtures and supervises. “What this award says is that my staff is the No. 1 prosecutor’s office in the nation.”
She said her work, on both the state and national level in the legal community, has centered on, among other things, teaching and coaching good values in prosecution, including civility, and good professional conduct: “doing the right thing.”
After she leaves office, she plans to go back to work — in private practice, in a role that she cannot yet reveal. She said she’s accepted a post that will involve helping people with the traumas of their lives. She said it is a role she will love. “But I probably won’t love it as much as I have loved this role.”
She said choosing to leave after her term ends “was the most difficult decision of my life. The hardest.”