September 5, 2012

Group files petition with court over Johnson County arboretum statue

A group opposed to a statue at the Overland Park Arboretum, which members say is obscene, filed signatures in court Tuesday to compel a judge to convene a grand jury in the matter.

The American Family Association of Kansas and Missouri contends the statue depicting a bare-breasted woman violates state law against promoting obscenity to children.

Phillip Cosby, director of the group, said it filed about 4,700 signatures and needs just under 3,700 valid ones.

Overland Park officials declined to issue a statement Tuesday.

Mike McLain, Johnson County court administrator, said a copy of the petition will be sent to the Johnson County Election Commission to verify the signatures.

If enough valid signatures are on the petition, then it will be returned to the court and randomly assigned by computer to one of the court’s civil judges, who will oversee the grand jury.

Johnson County will have 60 days to empanel the jury once it has been determined there are sufficient signatures.

“This has been a process to get the city of Overland Park, the council, to listen to the grievances about this sexting statue,” Cosby said, noting that the figure in the sculpture is taking a picture of herself.

“Fortunately, Kansas does have a tool by which the citizens can have their day in court when those in a position of power become indifferent to the law.”

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said “grand juries are unique in that the presiding juror speaks on behalf of the rest of the jury and controls what evidence they want to hear.”

That would include whether the petitioners are allowed to present evidence.

The district attorney’s office has an opportunity to participate at the direction of the presiding juror. That can range from providing advice or legal opinions to interrogating witnesses.

Howe said that his office also can bring other items to them for consideration.

A grand jury that was seated to investigate obscenity was used to indict Edwin R. Hall in the murder of Kelsey Smith of Overland Park.

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