A professional, experienced prosecutor already working to rebuild trust, responsibility, respect and efficiency at the county attorney’s office? Or a political ideologue guided by his own passions and philosophy on law and order?
The race for Franklin County attorney presents voters with just such a question. Incumbent Stephen Hunting, R-Gardner, who was appointed county attorney in May after his predecessor’s resignation, faces Fred Campbell, L-Garnett, who currently serves as Anderson County attorney, in an election contest that could have far-reaching consequences for the people of Franklin County.
Hunting, 38, has spent the past few months transitioning the county attorney’s office staff to a new style of operation, he said. The staff has been very patient and open to changes, he said, with many individuals offering valuable institutional knowledge and a willingness to challenge the status quo. He’s been working with his office, as well as others at the county’s detention centers and court facility, to increase efficiency by streamlining communication, scheduling and court procedures, he said.
The county attorney position involves far more administrative duties than many people understand, Hunting said. Such duties must be balanced with time in the courtroom prosecuting cases. To accomplish this, Hunting said, he has formed a “trial team” with other attorneys in the office who help keep “all the balls in the air.”
His opponent, Campbell, 53, said he thinks the challenges of Franklin County’s office are exaggerated and that the county attorney wastes taxpayer money by employing too many assistants.
“The office has grown more than necessary,” Campbell said. “The staff has grown to fit the size of the prosecutors’ egos who are trying to make a name for themselves.”
The Libertarian candidate — trying to boost his own stature by simultaneously running for the county attorney posts in Franklin, Anderson, Osage and Miami counties during this election cycle — should be keenly aware of the consequences of an under-staffed county attorney’s office. In 2000, when a then-smaller-staffed Franklin County attorney’s office found itself without a county attorney or an assistant (both were out of town), and only a worker who had not yet passed the bar remained, cases had to be dismissed, and Campbell was hired by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners in an emergency session to be the county attorney for a week.
The number of assistants could be reduced, he said, if the county stopped filing charges in frivolous cases. In Anderson County, Campbell said, his workload is more manageable because he chooses not to file as many cases, often opting for diversions in such cases as driving under the influence, or simply declining to move forward with a case at all.
“Not all cases must be followed to the letter of the law,” Campbell told Herald editors, emphasizing the subjective interpretation he believes prosecutors are allowed to employ.
The Anderson County prosecutor, who hopes the election outcome allows him to serve as prosecutor in numerous counties at once, said multiple times he doesn’t consider himself a politician and that his Libertarian Party beliefs — which stress less government and fewer laws — don’t play a role in his duties as county attorney. But he mentioned to editors and a Herald reporter on a number of occasions that he would pick and choose which crimes to prosecute — largely based on his own personal opinions.
“If a crime doesn’t specifically hurt someone, then it shouldn’t be a crime,” Campbell said.
These contradictions seemed logical, reasonable and even amusing to Campbell, who bragged to editors about an incident in which he refused to prosecute a case involving theft from a business — despite being presented with overwhelming documentation and evidence by law enforcement — because it helped him to settle an old score with the business.
It’s no wonder Campbell, by his own admission, doesn’t have a good working relationship or communication with law enforcement agencies in Anderson County.
“When I tell law enforcement things, they usually don’t believe me,” Campbell said. “Sometimes I’ll tell them things and they don’t listen until they hear it from someone else.”
Local residents also shouldn’t forget a 2007 Anderson County incident in which Campbell took the law into his own hands after a Greeley-area teen party that included alcohol and a reported sexual assault. When the prosecutor was given photos of the party by law enforcement, he declined to prosecute (believing, among other things, that the sex was consensual). Instead, he contacted the parents of the partygoers and showed them the photos — which included images of underage sexual intercourse (amounting to child porn).
In 2009, the Kansas Supreme Court suspended Campbell for six months, finding he had knowingly violated his duties to maintain his personal integrity and to follow the rules of the legal profession; caused actual injury to the teen girl whose underage sexual encounter was shown to adults; participated in a pattern of misconduct; and refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct throughout most of his hearing, according to court documents.
Asked by editors in October what, if anything, he would have done differently in the case, Campbell smiled and answered, “I would have just prosecuted the little darlings.”
Campbell’s job is all about justice, he said. And while his brand of “justice” seems to work fine for Anderson County voters, who backed him in 2000, 2004 and 2008, we believe Franklin County deserves better.
“The job speaks for itself,” Hunting said. “I understand the statutory powers and limitations of the position. The bravado is not really my style, and it’s not what we’re about. We need to take the attention off the person and put the focus on the office.”
Hunting is working to make the county attorney’s office the most professional law office in the county, he said. He wants his team to lead by example.
“We’re representing ‘the state’ and that needs to mean something,” he said. “There’s a level of decorum and professionalism that we need to demonstrate.”
Franklin County faces a lot of problems, Hunting said, many of them linked to drugs. Methamphetamine use, for example, often leads to child-in-need-of-care cases, as well as such property crimes as forged checks, burglaries and home invasions. The county also has seen a number of sexual assaults and even attempted murders and homicides in the past few years. And just last month, Hunting successfully prosecuted a sexual assault cold case from 2000.
“It’s a new day and a clean slate,” Hunting said. “To make Franklin County the safe place it needs to be, we have to make sacrifices and do the best job we can. ... Hopefully that translates to good prosecution in the courtroom and good relationships with partners in the community.”
Hunting has a plan, not an agenda.
He and Franklin County deserve voters’ help putting it into action.
— Tommy Felts,