On Sunday, January 21, 2024, the Kansas Reflector reported that a former Kansas prosecutor who had complained publicly about a judge’s conduct was herself disciplined by the state’s judicial conduct panel.
According to the article, Lisa Montgomery served as the Montgomery County prosecutor until resigning in October 2022. During her time as a prosecutor, she claimed that District Judge Jeffrey Gettler had created a hostile work environment for her staff through various actions like not returning phone calls, muting her during virtual hearings, and continuing hearings without her presence.
Montgomery believed Gettler was retaliating against her because she had previously testified against a different judge, Judge William Cullins, during disciplinary proceedings that resulted in Cullins being suspended for one year for inappropriate behavior and language in court. Montgomery decided to run for an open judicial seat but lost in the primary election.
In June 2022, Montgomery voiced her concerns about Gettler’s alleged conduct to the Montgomery County Commission during a public meeting while asking for approval of unlimited overtime pay for her understaffed office. Gettler later filed a complaint with the Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct against Montgomery for publicly complaining about a sitting judge.
The Commission called Montgomery before them for a disciplinary hearing in May 2022. However, the Commission did not seem concerned with the issues Montgomery raised about Gettler’s behavior and instead focused on her decision to make the complaint public at the commission meeting. In June, the Commission publicly reprimanded Montgomery.
Critics argue the Commission is meant to protect judges rather than address misconduct concerns. They note it is rare for the Commission to find a judge violated rules. In contrast, they reprimanded Montgomery, who was simply voicing concerns about a judge’s conduct affecting her office. If left the impression that concerns about judicial conduct cannot be safely raised. The secrecy of most Commission proceedings was also criticized for lacking transparency.
While the reprimands can negatively impact one’s career, the Commission secretly dismissed allegations against a different judge, Marion County Magistrate Laura Viar, who had authorized an illegal raid on a newspaper, setting a precedent that serious misconduct claims could be handled behind closed doors. The critiques called for more transparency from the Commission overseeing judicial conduct issues.