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Douglas County District Attorney

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    Suzanne Valdez

Biographical Information

What experiences/training in your background have prepared you to serve the different constituencies of your community?

Do you consider part of your role as District Attorney to participate in criminal justice reform in Kansas or nationally? Why or why not? What, if any, areas do you see as needing change or strengthening?

What, if any, steps would you take to reduce the number of juveniles brought into the criminal justice system? Do you see the need to address the disproportionate level of African American and Latino youth incarceration? Why or why not?

As District Attorney, what policies would you follow to handle a fatal use of force incident involving local police?

Do you support creating an option to charge low-level drug possession as a misdemeanor rather than a felony? Why or why not?

Studies show racial disparities in law enforcement. What do you see as the causes of this difference? What, if any, steps would you take to address this issue?

Personal Biography I am a Latina woman, who grew up in Arizona with a large extended family. I moved to Kansas in 1991 and Kansas became my home. I am a law professor, an attorney, a wife, a mother of 5 children, a companion to two dogs, and a marathoner. I've lived in Lawrence for 22 years. I have worked in public service my entire professional career, and I care deeply about my family, my students, and the Douglas County community. I cannot stand injustice in any form, and I always stand up for what is right.
Campaign Phone (785) 766-6169
Campaign Email
Campaign Web Site
Education University of Nevada, Las Vegas, B.S. in Business Management (1991); University of Kansas, J.D. (1996)
Community/Public Service Chair, Kansas Crime Victims Compensation Board (2009-18) Douglas County CASA Board (2015-18) Investigator, Kansas Bar Association's Ethics Grievance Committee (2014-present) Chair, Kansas Continuing Legal Education Commission (2003-06) Kansas Judicial Council, Family Law Advisory Committee (2003-present) KU University Senate President (2019-20) United States Military Academy (West Point) Admissions Representative (2019-present) Lawrence Project Graduation Committee Treasurer (2018) Many other university, statewide, and national committees.
Web Site
I have been a lawyer for 24 years and a law professor for 20 years. I have a wide-breadth of experience in Kansas law, including prosecution experience in the Wyandotte County DA's office. I worked for Kansas Legal Services in Kansas City, Kansas as a young lawyer from 1996-99 where I represented indigent clients in a wide variety of cases, including misdemeanor defense work. I then worked in the Douglas County Legal Clinic at the KU law school where I supervised law students who represented juvenile offenders and adults in municipal court. In 2008, I served as a temporary pro tem district judge in Douglas County for approximately 7 months where I presided over the juvenile offender docket. For nine years, I served as Chair of the Kansas Crime Victims Compensation Board where our board oversaw an office of 5 staff and a budget of up to $4M annually. I currently teach legal ethics and prosecutorial ethics at the KU Law School, and I am a co-author of a book on prosecution ethics.
I believe that the Douglas County DA should participate in local, statewide, and national criminal justice reform. As an expert on prosecutorial ethics, the foundation for my interest rests on the role of the prosecutor to always be a "minister of justice" and to ensure proper, compassionate, and just treatment of all those in the criminal justice system (including victims and survivors). We need to work on and change systemic and institutional racism by reviewing policies within the prosecution world that disproportionately affect Blacks and other marginalized communities. We need to focus on prevention programs and involve our community stakeholders in these conversations so that we develop opportunities that will keep people out of the criminal justice system. Finally, we need to support alternatives to incarceration and the DA's office must be supportive of and ensure offender success. Finally, we need transparency and accountability to restore public confidence in the DA's office.
As a lawyer and as a pro tem district judge for Douglas County handling the juvenile offender docket, I witnessed first-hand the effects of the criminal justice system on our youth. On the one hand, I experienced a sense of hope when the juvenile learned from and was accountable for his criminal conduct. On the other hand, I saw hopelessness and a bleak future for a young person. My take away is: why do we need to criminalize some of this conduct? Aren't there other ways to hold youth accountable and restore them fully to the community without invoking the criminal justice system? A juvenile record follows someone for life. It affects college admissions and job opportunities. I strongly advocate for restorative justice for juveniles, and I would work hard to ensure that Douglas County has a robust program. The school-to-prison pipeline is a real concern and one that deserves attention of the DA's office as part of the office's goals to change institutional and systemic racism.
My polices would focus on prevention and education of law enforcement and prosecutors. And if necessary accountability in the criminal justice system when there is excessive force. I believe all community stakeholders, including police and people from marginalized communities who have experienced police misconduct, must come together to devise clear expectations and guidelines about how these matters should be handled locally. Perhaps we should start to think about the role of the police and how civilian experts can effectively collaborate with police to keep our community safe, while restoring public trust in law enforcement. I also am in favor of a citizen review board to serve as a preventative body where all complaints of police are are welcomed and properly addressed in an open and transparent way. Finally, as a teacher I strongly encourage continuous training of law enforcement and prosecutors on important topics such as implicit bias and cultural competency.
The decision to charge someone with a crime can be life-altering for that individual. I take this function very seriously and I am in favor of taking a close look at this question and for reviewing the data about how making such a change can be workable. I certainly want policies in place that will avoid incarceration or tagging an individual with a criminal history that will follow him or her throughout life. I would also want to ensure that there are proper and effective community prevention programs in place and supported by the DA's office (ie., to address drug addiction) so that the DA's office can properly channel individuals to receive assistance and care when necessary without involving these individuals in the criminal justice system at all. I want to come up with workable solutions that will avoid incarceration, ensure treatment of those who need it, and accountability only when necessary.
The racial disparities in law enforcement reflect the same disparities in all of our institutions such as Congress, private business, higher education, the legal system, and the list goes on. The root cause of these racial disparities is institutional and systemic racism which has existed for hundreds of years. We need more racial minorities and women in government, law enforcement, prosecution, higher ed, and other areas of our nation's institutions. As a woman of color, I often say, once I see more people like me doing the things that I am doing, the more confidence I will have in our systems.