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Sedgwick County head juvenile court judge faces hearing

By Tim Potter

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) TOPEKA -- The presiding juvenile court judge in Sedgwick County is facing a formal public hearing Thursday and Friday.

The hearing is expected to focus on formal complaints that he harassed female prosecutors or staff members, e-mailed biased comments about a lawyer and asked a Wichita school board member to intervene for his wife about a job.

The list of potential witnesses in the hearing for Judge Timothy Henderson includes a number of judges and prosecutors in Wichita's legal community.

In a statement last month, Henderson said: "I am deeply saddened and hurt by these politically motivated charges. ... I have worked with these attorneys many years. Only now after I became presiding judge in 2013 and began making changes to juvenile court bringing greater accountability and transparency have these allegations, some as old as eight years ago, been made. I deny these allegations and look forward to the time that I will be able to respond fully to these claims."

Henderson, elected in 2000, heads the part of the court system that handles child-in-need-of-care cases and juvenile offenders.

On March 21, the Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed a "Notice of Formal Proceedings" concerning Henderson. The judge faces three areas of complaint, based on Kansas Supreme Court rules for conduct, according to the notice.

Count 1 alleges that Henderson "engaged in harassment by making repeated inappropriate and offensive comments" in the presence of women who work for the District Attorney's Office, "resulting in a hostile working environment as well as gender bias."

Count 2 alleges that on May 11, 2013, the judge sent an e-mail from his personal account to Diane Bidwell, then director of the DCF regional office in Wichita. The e-mail also was sent to the personal address of Jeff Kahrs, the DCF chief of staff.

The e-mail dealt with representation in guardianship cases by a Wichita attorney, the complaint says. Henderson's e-mail commented on the attorney's presumed hourly rate and also included this: "For many years he ... handled the life [sic] birth adoptions from Dr. Tiller." The judge's e-mail went on to say that another person could attest that the lawyer had "very liberal positions" and was involved in "gay adoptions," the complaint said. "Your call of course, but I wanted to make you aware of the situation."

Count 2 says the judge's e-mail shows "a negative stereotype and/or hostility or aversion toward (the lawyer) and his beliefs which conveys the appearance of bias and prejudice."

Count 2 says that the lawyer and his law firm "were removed from the DCF appointment list."

Count 3, which involves a judge being prohibited from using his position for personal advantage, accuses Henderson of approaching Wichita school board member Lanora Nolan, referred to in the complaint as Lanora Franck, and asking that she intervene for his wife.

Henderson's inquiry "concerned a teaching position or ... another position within the school district," Count 3 says. The judge asked the school board member "to investigate the reason his wife was not offered a contract, if appropriate records had been kept, and if there was any foul play involved."

The complaints are being handled by the Commission on Judicial Qualifications, which helps the Kansas Supreme Court in judicial disciplinary matters. The 14-member commission, appointed by the Supreme Court, consists of six active or retired judges, four lawyers and four non-lawyers.

A judge who faces formal proceedings, as Henderson does, gets a public hearing before a panel. If a violation is found, the commission can take a range of actions, from admonishing a judge to recommending that the Supreme Court retire, censure, suspend or remove the judge.

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle