A state panel will decide whether a Sedgwick County judge lied when facing allegations of sexual harassment last year.
Judge Timothy Henderson received a 90-day suspension from the Kansas Supreme Court in February for “wide-ranging” misconduct including subjecting “multiple female attorneys and staff members to repeated inappropriate and offensive comments for literally years.”
Henderson could face additional punishment. The Commission on Judicial Qualifications began the first of three days of hearings on Monday on whether Henderson violated judicial conduct rules during hearings last year.
A complaint filed in October alleges that Henderson violated a rule that requires judges to cooperate when under investigation and refrain from “the use of dilatory practices, frivolous or unfounded responses … or other uncooperative behavior.”
Henderson’s attorney, Thomas Haney, argued that his client had already been punished and compared it to trying a defendant a second time after they lost a case. He asked whether the case would be brought a third time if Henderson repeated his testimony from the previous case.
Haney also said that the panel would not hear “any evidence about Henderson being a bad judge” and would instead hear “about bad jokes.”
Melissa Green, an assistant district attorney, testified Monday that around the time she was pregnant with her second child in 2006, Henderson told her a story of how when his wife was being stitched up after giving birth the doctor offered to make an additional stitch to increase his sexual pleasure.
“I actually felt sorry for his wife,” Green said. “He acted like it was the funniest thing.”
Green was one of several assistant district attorneys from Sedgwick County to bring forward complaints of sexual harassment against Henderson in 2013, which led to the 90-day suspension.
During last year’s hearings before the commission, Henderson said he had not told this story to Green. He said he only told it once during the 1990s and did not find any humor in it.
The new complaint was brought forward after Karen Ward, a Sedgwick County court services officer, contacted a state investigator after observing last year’s hearing.
Ward, who worked with Henderson in the juvenile court, said that she had heard the judge tell the story on numerous occasions and that he even spoke using a fake accent to mimic the doctor’s voice.
“It was hard to hear a judge take an oath and, in my opinion, lie,” Ward said during testimony Monday.
“I’ve heard him from the bench admonish people to tell the truth. … I’ve seen him terminate people’s (parental) rights because of that,” she said.
Other witnesses, including other court services officers and Henderson’s former neighbor, testified that they also heard Henderson tell the story on multiple occasions.
Henderson also faces an allegation that he lied when he claimed that he pressured former Wichita school board member Lanora Nolan, now Lanora Franck, to help get his wife a teaching position in the school district. Franck is a juvenile justice education liaison for Sedgwick County.
Henderson would not comment on this or any other topic during a break in Monday’s proceeding.
‘A canned joke’
Ward also recalled Henderson making light of a child in need of care case, in which a girl had been trafficked from Asia to work long hours in a restaurant. Ward said Henderson told people around the courthouse that if they needed anyone to perform work around the house, he knew someone cheap.
Henderson denied making jokes about the case at the previous hearing.
Assistant District Attorneys Amanda Moreno and Mark Jordan both testified Monday that they heard Henderson make the joke. Moreno said Henderson approached her in the courthouse’s law library and asked if she and her husband could use some extra help around the house. “He said, ‘I know a young Asian girl who works really hard,’” Moreno recounted. “It was almost like a canned joke.”
Jordan admitted that he had also made his own inappropriate joke about the case, which he regretted.
Green said Monday that Henderson would often make remarks that were inappropriate or sexual in nature to attorneys. She recalled that when she had made a cake for a court staff member’s birthday that featured an image of an elderly couple, Henderson commented to her that “it looks like she’s giving him the ‘reach-around.’ ”
“The only connotation could be a sexual connotation,” Green said.
At the previous hearing, Henderson said he was making a comment about his own weight and aging and needing his wife to help him walk.
Haney objected that Green couldn’t know for sure what Henderson meant by the remark. He questioned her on the witness stand about whether she had ever behaved inappropriately toward Henderson, pointing to an e-mail she forwarded to other members of the DA’s office that included a link to a blog post calling Henderson “a perverted loser.”
Haney asked whether she and the other attorneys laughed about this. He also pressed her on why she did not bring a complaint against Henderson until 2013 and suggested that the DA’s office had a team working against Henderson.
Haney asked Green whether a 2.5 percent raise she had received since the first complaint was brought was the result of her testifying against Henderson. She emphatically said no.
The commission’s examiner, Todd Thompson, objected that Haney’s questioning was beginning to get “a little bit abusive,” and Michael Stout, the panel’s chair, admonished Haney for interrupting Green before she could answer many of his questions.
Haney also asked Green whether Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett ever sent a memo stating that he thought the original panel gave Henderson too light a punishment.
Bennett, who attended the hearing, said Monday during a break that he was unsure what Haney was talking about.
Haney asked Moreno if the DA’s office was involved “in a concerted effort to remove Judge Henderson from the bench” and pressed her about an award the DA’s office had received from the Kansas Bar Association for courage after members of the office testified against Henderson in the previous case.
Moreno acknowledged she posted a photo of the award to Facebook and said she saw no problem with that. “I do think that this is courageous to stand here and testify and stand up to a person in power,” she said.