Crime & Courts

Brownback appoints ex-Sedgwick County prosecutor Kevin O’Connor to judgeship

Kevin O'Connor was appointed to the Sedgwick County District Court judgeship by Gov. Sam Brownback
Kevin O'Connor was appointed to the Sedgwick County District Court judgeship by Gov. Sam Brownback File photo

Kevin O’Connor is coming home to be a judge.

Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday announced that he has appointed O’Connor to a Sedgwick County District Court judgeship. It fills a vacancy caused by the death of Judge Richard Ballinger.

“I am pleased to appoint Kevin O’Connor to the 18th District Court,” Brownback said in a statement. “His experience and knowledge will serve the people of the District well.”

For the past 20 months, O’Connor has worked as a prosecutor with the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office. But his home has remained in the Wichita-area, where he has spent a big part of his career as a prosecutor and where his children attend school. O’Connor said he didn’t want to uproot his children, so he has been making a nearly 2 1/2-hour commute to Olathe.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to continue my public service,” he said Tuesday afternoon about his appointment.

O’Connor, a Republican who is about to turn 51, said he appreciated that the governor had faith in him, adding, “I’m humbled and I’m honored by this.” He grew up in a Chicago suburb and noted that he is the son of Irish immigrants who came to this country with few possessions and little education.

He is probably best known around the Wichita area for his work in the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, where he became a deputy district attorney. He served as a prosecutor in the Sedgwick County DA’s Office from1992 through 2009 and helped prosecute high-profile murder cases against defendants including Michael Marsh, Stanley Elms, Reginald and Jonathan Carr and Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer.

O’Connor lost to Marc Bennett in the 2012 GOP primary race for Sedgwick County district attorney. On Tuesday, Bennett said of O’Connor’s appointment as judge: “I certainly want to offer my congratulations, and it’s quite an accomplishment.”

After leaving the Sedgwick County DA’s Office, O’Connor worked as a special prosecutor for the state attorney general's office, helping to gain a conviction in the Barton County capital murder case against Adam Longoria in the killing of 14-year-old Alicia DeBolt.

Before becoming a prosecutor in Johnson County, where he headed the sex-crimes unit, he worked for several months as Derby’s city attorney.

On Tuesday, O’Connor acknowledged that he has had a reputation as a zealous prosecutor but said he will make a smooth transition to judge. “I may have been a tough and aggressive prosecutor, but I was also a fair prosecutor,” he said. “I understand the roles are different. … I’ve been in a lot of courtrooms and in front of a lot of judges in my career,” he added, saying he wants to use all of the best practices he has seen judges use.

He is filling the judgeship that became vacant after Ballinger, a Democrat, died in January. Ballinger, 62, died of complications from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

O’Connor said he will run for election to the post next year.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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