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Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct dismisses case against judge who signed off on Marion newsroom raid

Magistrate Judge Laura Viar
Posted at 5:01 PM, Dec 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-06 18:06:02-05

TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct has dismissed a complaint filed against the judge who signed off on the warrant to raid Marion County Record.

LINK | Complete coverage of Marion newspaper raid

On Dec. 6, the commission sent a determination letter to Keri Strahler, who filed the complaint against Magistrate Judge Laura Viar on Aug. 17.

According to the commission, the complaint did not contain facts to establish reasonable cause to support a violation of the judicial code regarding Judge Viar’s ruling on the search warrants.

"I'm deeply concerned there is little consequence given to a seemingly flagrant abuse of our most cherished first amendment in the circumvention of state and federal law to search a small town newspaper," Strahler told KSHB 41 I-Team's Jessica McMaster Wednesday.

Strahler, from Topeka, raised concerns over Viar’s competence in her complaint to the commission.

“I humbly beg for your attention to Judge Laura Viar’s mental capacity in her decision to seemingly circumvent federal and state law,” she wrote.

Strahler pointed to laws that protect journalists from raids, like the Privacy Protection Act, which requires police seek a subpoena for information instead of conducting a search unless someone is in danger of bodily harm or death.

On Sept. 5, Doug Shima, secretary for the commission, assigned Strahler’s complaint to an inquiry panel for consideration.

The commission could have chosen to dismiss the complaint immediately.

That panel requested Viar respond to the complaint during a commission agenda meeting on Nov. 3.

According to the commission, Viar was given informal advice to take sufficient time to review all documents and research appropriate federal and state laws before issuing a search warrant.

The commission's decisions are not made public, and staff will not discuss the cases brought before them, but the information is shared with the person who files the complaint.

Strahler provided the KSHB I-Team with the commission's determination letter, which explains its decision to dismiss.

Complaint Against Viar Dismissed.jpg

“The Commission extensively discussed the matter of incompetence and found the facts and circumstances were not sufficient to conduce the issuance of the warrant cross the line of incompetence," the commission wrote in its determination letter.

The dismissal letter from the commission goes on to say, “This is not to say that the commission agrees with the issuance of the search warrant in this instance was reasonable or legally appropriate.”