Friday, December 6, 2019

Court Reporter's Facebook Posts Draw Reprimand

An unusual order of the Kansas Supreme Court reprimands a court reporter who had transcribed a high-profile murder trial.

The defendant was convicted of killing her ex-husband and his girlfriend and while on appeal

An article in the Topeka Capital Journal on October 29, 2017, discussed the murder, conviction, and appeal, and included alleged Facebook quotes from Respondent. Specifically, the article attributed to Respondent the following comments about the Chandler trial:

'Were you there listening to it? I was,' said April Shepard, a court reporter who worked the Chandler trial. 'I will not say that I agree with everything Jacqie Spradling said or did, but it didn't change anything. Dana Chandler is not innocent. She may get a new trial, but the outcome will be the same. No one else would've done this but Dana Chandler.'

Copies of screen shots from Facebook that are attributed to Respondent include the following (some dates may not be accurate):

'a. Oh, stop. Dana Chandler is not innocent. She may get a new trial but the outcome will be the same. (April 7, 2016)

'b. No one else would've done this but Dana Chandler. (April 18, 2016)

Well, I can tell you that it won't be that judge because JUDGE PARRISH is a fair judge and I know her well. Just because he says this doesn't make it so. Were you there listening to it, I was. I will not say that I agreed with everything Jackie Spradling said or did, but it didn't change anything. (April 19, 2016)

'c. I don't believe Jackie [S]pradling lied. (August 2016)

'd. Look, I was there, I was the court reporter for that trial and, yes, Jackie pushed a little too far at times, but there was nothing more damning than those telephone jail calls between Dana Chandler and her sister Shirley and that's what changed it for everyone if they thought she didn't do it before. The fact of the matter is she's the only one that could have done it and would have done it. She had a major axe to grind with Karen Harkness and Mike Sisco for she stalked them repeatedly. (January 2017)

'e. It's not that wrong if you think about how many cases there are. They're more right than they are wrong. (June 25, 2017)

'f. Linda Coe, I'm confident they got the right perpetrator in this case. Look, I was there, I reported that whole case. I saw firsthand this case. I do agree, though, a lot of times they have prosecuted the wrong person and I believe those people should be exonerated however it happens. This case however is very different. (July 12, 2017)'

Respondent acknowledges that the above posts were her posts. She had forgotten about a couple of the posts, but has stated she will 'take ownership of them.'

The conviction was overturned on appeal.

The court

The respondent does not contest the findings by the hearing panel. Indeed, she stipulated to the facts and admits she violated Board Rule No. 9.F.9. (2019 Kan. S. Ct. R. 419) (failure to maintain impartiality). Furthermore, the findings of the hearing panel establish by clear and convincing evidence the alleged misconduct. The evidence also supports the panel's conclusions. We adopt the panel's findings and conclusions. We, accordingly, find respondent engaged in prohibited conduct by failing to maintain impartiality toward each participant in a trial she reported for in district court.

The only remaining issue before us is the appropriate discipline for the respondent's violation. The Board may recommend the following discipline to the Kansas Supreme Court: (1) public reprimand; (2) imposition of a period of probation with special conditions which may include additional professional education or re-education;
(3) suspension of the certificate; or (4) revocation of the certificate. Board Rule No. 9.E.4. (2019 Kan. S. Ct. R. 418).


In support of her requested discipline, respondent's arguments are summarized as follows: (1) the rule prohibiting partiality lacks a clear definition; (2) she was not partial toward either side during the actual reporting of the trial; (3) the trial and jury conviction occurred several years before she made the comments and she had moved to another  county so she knew she would never be involved with the case again; (4) she had been "baited" into making the comments; (5) she did not make these comments to any public news reporter or outlet; (6) she has cooperated with the investigation, apologized, and promised not to make the same mistake; and (7) this is her first violation and she has remained in good standing during her more than 25 years of reporting...

Respondent's conduct was egregious, and respondent agrees her comments, which were made over a year's period of time, damaged her profession. However, once a formal complaint was filed against her, she cooperated with the investigation, agreed she made inappropriate comments, apologized, and stated she will not make the same mistake again. These are mitigating factors that we consider in determining the appropriate  discipline.

Having considered all matters raised, we find the Board's recommendation for a public reprimand to be persuasive.

Oral argument video linked here. (Mike Frisch)

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