A state court official in Kansas who was part of an effort to prosecute an attorney for bringing an “assistant” with him when he interviewed prison inmates regarding what turned out to be a sex scandal now is the target of a formal ethics complaint alleging he lied about the case.
It was back in 2009 when the Kansas Department of Corrections, fresh off a black eye over a drugs-for-sex scandal at a prison for women, launched an action against attorney Keen Umbehr.
Umbehr had entered the Topeka Correctional Facility for Women to interview two inmates, one of whom was impregnated by a prison plumbing instructor before she allegedly was threatened and bullied into aborting her child. The instructor was charged with rape but later plea-bargained to unlawful sexual relations, a lesser crime.
Umbehr was accompanied on the visit by Tim Carpenter, a man who had been assisting Umbehr for months in uncovering prison employees’ trading of tobacco, drugs and money to the inmates for sexual favors.
But Carpenter also was an investigative reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal, and following his visit with the inmates, he exposed the prison’s sex ring through a series of stories in the paper.
The state immediately launched an ethics complaint against Umbehr.
But roll the calendar forward and the situation suddenly has been reversed.
According to a new report in the Topeka Capital-Journal, Umbehr, who was cleared of any wrongdoing, this week filed with the Kansas Supreme Court a complaint accusing state legal ethics official Stanton Hazlett of professional misconduct.
The newspaper report said Umbehr’s complaint includes more than 50 supporting documents. It alleges Hazlett repeatedly affirmed that an ethics panel found there was probable cause for a full hearing on Umbehr’s behavior, even though that finding never was made.
Umbehr told the newspaper he thinks state officials were trying to pressure him to plead guilty to some charge in the case against him “to justify the complaint at all.”
Hazlett told the paper he didn’t have time to review the allegations in the case against Umbehr that was launched at the request of state Corrections Department Deputy Secretary Charles Simmons.
“I do welcome the investigation, and I’ll cooperate fully with it. Last but not least, I deny, categorically, any misconduct,” he told the paper.
Umbehr’s representative, Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Van Kirk, informed Hazlett that the allegations were unrelated to Umbehr’s ethics. Instead, they were “in retaliation for Mr. Umbehr’s and his clients’ disclosure of ongoing and repeated sexual abuse and the public revelation of the Department of Corrections’ official neglect.”
Van Kirk cited the evidence in the case: The Capital-Journal’s stories about the Topeka prison, several of which involved inmate Tracy Keith, “who said the prison’s plumbing instructor, Anastacio ‘Ted’ Gallardo, raped and impregnated her, then had other inmates stomp on her stomach in an attempt to cause a miscarriage.”
The newspaper said Keith later sued Gallardo and the state, and reported a corrections employee drove her to an abortionist for an abortion. Gallardo later left the department.
Regarding the original situation, prison spokesman Bill Miskell told the Capital-Journal the state has protocols in place for when reporters want to enter prisons and has to maintain the security of its facilities.
“Basic to that responsibility is knowing who is entering our facilities and the purpose for them doing so,” he said.
But the Capital-Journal fired back a scathing editorial, calling the action a “smear attack.”
“The interviews helped lead to stories revealing illegal sexual relationships and traffic of contraband in the prison,” the editorial states. “You might have thought KDOC would have bigger fish to fry than to lodge the complaint against Umbehr – like turning its full attention to improving prison security measures and increasing supervision of corrections workers.
“If there’s ever been a more obvious case of shooting the messenger, it’s hard to remember it,” the paper concluded.
The controversy did prompt the state to do a review of its prison system.