Marc Bennett says he’ll make DA’s office more transparent, cooperative

Marc Bennett is interviewed at Loft 150 as he and his supporters await election results on Tuesday evening. Bennett was running for Sedgwick County district attorney against Kevin O'Connor. (Aug. 7, 2012)
Marc Bennett is interviewed at Loft 150 as he and his supporters await election results on Tuesday evening. Bennett was running for Sedgwick County district attorney against Kevin O'Connor. (Aug. 7, 2012) The Wichita Eagle

Transparency and cooperation are high on Marc Bennett’s list of things to see happen during his era as Sedgwick County's district attorney.

“In police shooting cases, for instance – and who’s kidding whom, there have been an unusual number of those cases right now – rather than talk in sweeping generalities, maybe we can have press conferences where we explain what the findings were,” he said Wednesday.

“People will have more confidence in what’s going on than me saying, ‘Trust me, we worked it out. No one is getting charged.’ That makes people think something is going on behind closed doors. You should be able to stand up and tell the community what’s going on.”

Bennett’s turn at DA will begin in January after his boss, Nola Foulston, retires from the position she has held since 1989. A deputy DA, Bennett received 54 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Republican primary to defeat former deputy DA Kevin O’Connor.

Because a Democrat didn’t run for the office, Bennett’s victory makes him the next DA.

For those wondering whether O’Connor – known for being a strong prosecutor – will have a role in the office again, the possibility exists.

They did work together in the office for eight years before O’Connor left in late 2009. Both refer to each other as friends, even during a campaign that grew heated at times.

“I don’t know how I could answer that without at least being mildly insulting to him,” Bennett said of whether he would offer O’Connor a job. “It’s a little presumptuous of me to think he wants to.

“Out of respect for him, I’m going to stay away from that for now. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

O’Connor said he would consider rejoining the DA’s office under Bennett.

“I wouldn’t rule out anything,” he said, “but I wouldn’t want to put him on the spot.

“I’m considering going out on my own in private practice. There are many ways to help people.

“Right now, we need to let the dust settle.”

O’Connor said he thought the campaign helped bring to light changes that need to be made in the office.

“And now I think that will help Marc do things that need to be done,” he said. “I wish him well.”

Bennett said he wasn’t just looking to do things differently than Foulston or attack his boss of 15 years for the way she has done things.

“I’m just saying this is how I want to do it,” he said. “I’ve never sat in the captain’s chair, so I don’t know everything. But one advantage I have is, I have four or five months of transitioning to get a better feel for things.”

But Bennett knows transparency is important, and indicated he may hold weekly news conferences.

“People will at least know what’s happening: ‘Here’s what we did last week; here’s how many cases we charged,’ ” he said.

Even during his election-night watch party, Bennett said he was starting to have discussions with police officers, defense attorneys and judges about how communication could be improved. He said it’s important that the DA’s office work well with public defenders and judges, particularly early in cases, to improve the system.

“If one of the three isn’t invited to the table, then one-third isn’t getting better,” he said.

Working with surrounding county attorneys and those around the state is also important, he said.

“Crime isn’t isolated,” Bennett said. “You don’t just say there’s a Wichita criminal doing a Wichita crime.”

He also wants to look at ways to reduce an overloaded criminal docket by making the process flow more quickly and perhaps reorganize the juvenile section where right now one attorney is in charge of juvenile crimes and the child-in-need-of-care cases.

“Those are high-volume, high-intensity cases,” Bennett said of the juvenile section. “Those child-in-need-of-care cases are about as miserable of cases as we have. No one leaves happy.

“We want to make sure there’s not a better way we do those cases.”

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