June 28, 2005

Judge Waller wins praise for fairness

Everyone watching Monday's hearing in the BTK case learned what many Wichita lawyers already knew: Judge Greg Waller is fair, careful and thorough.

Waller first made sure that Dennis Rader understood the rights he was giving up by pleading guilty to 10 murders — something the judge does anytime he accepts a plea.

Then Waller made sure that no one could question the validity of Rader's plea by asking about the details of the crimes.

"He brought out more than sufficient evidence to justify the plea," defense lawyer Warner Eisenbise said. "No one could ever question the factual basis that was given for that plea."

After the Rader hearing, District Attorney Nola Foulston praised the way Waller ran the proceedings.

"Mr. Rader wants to be in control, but it was obvious that Judge Greg Waller was in charge" of the courtroom Monday, she said.

Defense lawyer Steve Joseph, who has been friends with Waller since college and managed his campaigns, said he was glad the judge asked so many questions because Joseph learned a lot about the crimes.

"He answered a lot of questions I've had for the last 20 or 30 years," said Joseph, who worked as a prosecutor when some of the murders occurred.

Lawyer Les Hulnick also praised the way Waller handled Rader's plea.

"I think Greg Waller did a wonderful job this morning in eliciting the facts," said Hulnick, who listened to most of the hearing on the radio.

As the presiding criminal judge, Waller assigns cases to other judges and controls the calendar for hearings and motions.

Waller handles at least 10 to 20 guilty pleas a week in his role as presiding judge and takes time to make sure that each defendant understands his or her rights.

"He tries to be fair and impartial in his rulings," defense lawyer Roger Falk said.

Falk, Eisenbise and Hulnick all tried cases against Waller during the 18 years he spent prosecuting defendants as an assistant district attorney. They remember him as a trustworthy and talented opponent before he became a judge in 1993.

"I always found him to be a prosecutor that was fair and honest to work with," Falk said.

On the bench, Waller is patient and polite to everyone who appears in his court, Eisenbise said, and he has a good understanding of the law.

"He is one of our very best judges," said Eisenbise, who has practiced law for more than 40 years.

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