The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday ordered an unpaid 90-day suspension for Sedgwick County District Judge Timothy Henderson after finding that he had committed judicial misconduct.
The state’s high court said in a 23-page opinion filed Friday that Henderson’s “conduct in making ‘repeated inappropriate and offensive comments’ to female staff members and to female attorneys appearing in his court is particularly troubling.”
The court ordered that Henderson be suspended for 90 days without pay starting within 10 days of Friday’s filing.
“A minority would impose a more severe sanction,” the court said.
The court also ordered – because Henderson “does not seem to appreciate why his conduct was unacceptable” – that the judge complete within a year a course on “sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation prevention training.”
Also, Henderson can’t supervise any judicial branch employee other than his staff for two years after completing the educational requirement, the court said.
Henderson’s attorney, Tom Haney of Topeka, said he couldn’t comment on the court’s decision because Henderson still has a pending disciplinary issue before the court that deals with the question of whether the judge was candid in his testimony about his actions.
In December, Henderson apologized to the court, saying, “I’ve embarrassed myself. I’ve embarrassed my family … and I’ve embarrassed the court.”
In May, Henderson was reassigned from his juvenile court position, where he had been presiding judge, to the civil court department.
District Attorney Marc Bennett, whose female attorneys suffered harassment from the judge, according to the Supreme Court, said Friday: “Obviously, the process has taken its course, and we are in a profession where we accept appellate courts’ review and move on.”
Bennett said he also wanted to say that he was proud of his staff attorneys who were subject to Henderson’s behavior, and that his employees continued to come to court and appear before Henderson and carry out their job of looking out for children who come through the court system in child-in-need-of-care cases. “They conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism at all times,” Bennett said.
Friday’s high court opinion came after a panel of the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications handled an official complaint against Henderson alleging three counts of official misconduct. Henderson denied that he violated the judicial misconduct code, and the issues went to a hearing by another panel. That panel found violations on all three counts and recommended to the Supreme Court that he be publicly censured – publicly scolded.
The panel found that the judge made “repeated and inappropriate and offensive comments in the presence of female attorneys” who worked for the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office. The comments were of a sexual or suggestive nature, the panel said.
The panel also determined that Henderson sent an e-mail from his personal account to top officials with the Department for Children and Families that showed hostility against a Wichita attorney over what he called the lawyer’s liberal beliefs, and the state agency removed the attorney and his law firm from the DCF appointment list.
The judicial code says a judge must show impartiality.
The panel also found that Henderson sought help from a Wichita school board member on behalf of the judge’s wife, who was interested in a school district job.
In its published opinion Friday, the Supreme Court said it found “clear and convincing evidence” against Henderson.
The court said it found that the judge showed “extremely poor judgment or blatantly misused the power of his judicial position” by making “offensive and demeaning comments of a sexual nature to female attorneys and staff members,” including about sex acts and a woman’s anatomy.
“Those victims endured the harassment over an extended period of time because they feared Respondent would use his professed political connections to jeopardize their careers.”
Regarding the e-mail, the court said that Henderson “interfered with an attorney’s practice” and that it showed prejudice against the attorney based on “apparent disagreement with the attorney’s moral beliefs.”
The court also found that Henderson “tried to use the influence of his judicial position for personal gain by brokering an employment opportunity for his wife.”
The high court said Henderson’s “misconduct struck at the very heart of the honor and dignity that the public expects” with judges.
Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.