On Thursday, May 16, 2024, KSHB 41 reported that the Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct is asking Judge Laura Viar to respond to a second complaint regarding her role in authorizing raids on a Kansas newspaper and two homes last year.

Judge Viar had signed off on the search warrants that allowed police raids to take place in August 2023 on the offices of the Marion County Record newspaper as well as the homes of publisher Eric Meyer and Marion Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel as part of an investigation into a tip about a local restaurant owner’s driving record. Now, a Topeka resident named Keri Strahler has filed a complaint with the Commission claiming Judge Viar may have “erroneously notarized” the warrants.

In the complaint, Strahler references claims made by Bernie Rhodes, the attorney representing the Marion County Record, and Eric Meyer in a lawsuit over the raids. Rhodes alleges that while the warrant applications had a space for a notary signature, Judge Viar scratched out “notary” and signed the applications herself, attesting the warrants were “subscribed and sworn” before her. However, according to emails obtained by KSHB 41, it was staff from the Marion County District Attorney’s office, not former Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody who sought the warrants, who brought the warrants to Judge Viar. Rhodes argues the same rules that prohibit notarizing a signature without the person present should apply to judges as well.

Strahler is asking the Commission to review parts of the newspaper’s lawsuit questioning Judge Viar’s ability to make impartial decisions on the case given her own previous DUI charge from 2012. However, legal experts have said one past mistake would not automatically disqualify a judge from similar cases.

This marks the second complaint filed by Strahler, who told KSHB 41 she has no connection to any of the involved parties. In the first complaint, she questioned Judge Viar’s competence in light of legal protections for journalists. In response, the Commission sent the judge a letter advising her to research applicable laws more thoroughly in the future.

While the Commission operates confidentially, it provided KSHB 41 a copy of a letter informing Strahler it has placed Judge Viar’s response to the new complaint on its agenda for consideration at a July 12 meeting, at which point it will decide whether to further investigate or dismiss the matter. If the Commission finds an ethics violation, it can privately caution or publicly order the judge to cease certain conduct.

According to experts, while a single mistake may not be enough to deem a judge incompetent, multiple complaints could impact determinations of competence going forward.

 

 

Source: KSHB 41