The Kansas Supreme Court should follow a state panel’s recommendation and publicly censure Sedgwick County District Judge Timothy Henderson for violating judicial conduct rules. And voters should remember the rebuke if Henderson runs for office again.
The Commission on Judicial Qualifications focused most of its findings, which were released Tuesday, on complaints that Henderson harassed female attorneys with the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office. At the panel’s hearing in May, the attorneys recounted multiple instances in which Henderson made inappropriate comments, often of a sexual nature.
The panel of judges and attorneys unanimously concluded that Henderson “engaged in harassment as well as gender bias by making repeated inappropriate and offensive comments.”
The panel also unanimously concluded that Henderson wrongly sent an e-mail to officials with the Kansas Department for Children and Families alerting them that a Wichita attorney had a past association with Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller and was involved in “gay adoptions.” DCF then removed the attorney and his law firm from its appointment list.
The panel said that Henderson exhibited bias and prejudice against the attorney, inappropriately mixed his personal views on sociopolitical issues with his role as a judge, and inappropriately engaged in ex parte communication about an impending legal action.
The panel also unanimously concluded that Henderson improperly used his position as a judge to try to aid his wife in getting a job with the Wichita school district.
When The Eagle reported on the complaints in April, Henderson denied the allegations and said they were “politically motivated charges” aimed at undermining his efforts to bring greater accountability and transparency to the juvenile court, where he was presiding judge at the time. At the hearings in May, he denied or tried to downplay many of the complaints.
But the panel concluded that Henderson’s “explanations, or denials, of the allegations are not credible.” It also noted that his “testimony changed in questioning on the same subject” and that, in some instances, his testimony was contradicted by other evidence.
The panel could have requested that Henderson be suspended or removed from office, but it recommended a published reprimand from the Supreme Court.
Good for the women attorneys for testifying at the hearing. That took guts. District Attorney Marc Bennett and his staff also deserve thanks for filing the ethical complaint.
Henderson deserves the rebuke.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee