Crime & Courts

2 retired judges vouch for embattled Judge Henderson at hearing

TOPEKA — Two retired judges vouched for Judge Timothy Henderson’s honesty at a hearing about whether he lied when facing allegations of sexual harassment and other misconduct last year.

The Commission on Judicial Qualifications finished a two-day hearing Tuesday on the latest complaint against Henderson, a Sedgwick County District Court judge, who is accused of not testifying truthfully at a disciplinary hearing in May 2014.

The two retired judges, character witnesses for Henderson, said they have never doubted his honesty.

“I always felt like he was very honest,” testified retired District Judge Jean Schmidt of Shawnee County.

She said Henderson was a conscientious employee when she supervised his work on juvenile cases in the local district attorney’s office in the early 1990s. “I never had any question about what he told me.”

Retired District Judge Robert Schmisseur, of Pratt County, who described himself as a mentor to Henderson and a friend of his parents, testified that Henderson respected the Supreme Court’s decision although he was embarrassed by it.

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.”

Schmisseur said he couldn’t recall Henderson making offensive remarks in his presence.

“There was no reputation for dishonesty,” he said, recalling his acquaintance of nearly four decades.

Both retired judges noted Henderson’s strong religious faith as a devout Catholic. Schmidt said when she supervised Henderson, he sometimes had trouble catching sexual innuendos.

Also, she testified, “He didn’t read people very well.”

Three assistant Sedgwick County district attorneys and a court services officer were witnesses Monday, disputing Henderson’s accounts of his conduct during a disciplinary hearing in May 2014. The latest complaint, filed by the commissioner’s examiner in October, said Henderson’s earlier testimony “was not candid and honest.”

Henderson’s attorney, Thomas Haney, repeatedly suggested while questioning defense witnesses that Henderson sometimes isn’t “politically correct,” but that he didn’t make comments or jokes that harassed or demeaned others. Haney asked Schmidt whether Henderson was politically correct.

She said, “Well, no, but I’m not either.”

Several other defense witnesses testified that dark humor is a way of dealing with the stress of handling juvenile cases or cases involving abused and neglected children.

But in its opinion in February, the state Supreme Court said that the evidence gathered following the first complaint showed that Henderson “exhibited extremely poor judgment” and made “offensive and demeaning comments” over “an extended period of time.”

The commission panel will make recommendations to the state Supreme Court on what, if any, new sanctions Henderson should face. Its decision is not expected until at least mid-October.