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Attorney Who Brought Reporter into Prison Cleared of Ethical Violations

A Kansas lawyer who took an investigative reporter into the Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF), a women’s prison, has had the cloud of a pending ethics complaint lifted after two years. The complaint was filed with the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys (Board) by Charles Simmons, then-deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Attorney Keen A. Umbehr took Tim Carpenter, an investigative reporter with the Topeka Capital-Journal, into TCF to uncover a pattern of sexual abuse. Carpenter interviewed prisoners and the interviews were reported in news stories that detailed illegal sexual relationships and contraband trafficking involving prison employees. Simmons’ ethics complaint, filed in October 2009, charged Umbehr with misrepresenting Carpenter’s occupation when they visited TCF. [See: PLN, May 2010, p.18].

On November 9, 2011 the Board issued a letter dismissing the complaint. It said the ethics violation must be proven by “clear and convincing evidence,” which was lacking. While Umbehr said he was pleased with the result, he took issue with the Board’s statement that he should have researched the issue of members of the media visiting the prison or identified Carpenter as a media representative. Umbehr stated that under the same circumstances he would “absolutely” act in the same manner, as he did nothing unethical.

He also claimed the ethics complaint was in retaliation for his role in helping to bring illegal activity at TCF to light. The complaint “was a dark cloud over [my] head,” he said.
Not only did Carpenter’s news reporting expose illicit activity at TCF, but the coverage caused state lawmakers to increase the criminal penalties for prison employees who engage in sexual misconduct with prisoners.

On May 23, 2012, Umbehr turned the tables on the Board by filing a complaint with the Kansas Supreme Court against Stanton Hazlett, the state’s disciplinary administrator.
Umbehr alleged that Hazlett had engaged in misconduct by falsely saying an ethics panel had found “probable cause” for a full hearing in Simmons’ ethics complaint when the panel had in fact made no such finding prior to the dismissal of the complaint.

Source: Topeka Capital-Journal

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