Former Kansas prosecutor disbarred over ‘grossly unethical misconduct’ in murder case

·3 min read
Neil Nakahodo - The Kansas City Star

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday disbarred former prosecutor Jacqueline Spradling, saying she engaged in a “serious pattern of grossly unethical misconduct” in a high-profile Topeka murder case.

A majority of the state’s highest court found that in her 2012 prosecution of Dana Chandler, whose double murder conviction was overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct, Spradling “failed in her obligation to act as a minister of justice.”

“She ignored the order of a district court, repeatedly made arguments to the jury that lacked any evidentiary support, intentionally lied to this court in her briefs and in oral arguments, and made false statements during the disciplinary investigation,” they wrote.

The decision came after a disciplinary panel last year unanimously recommended Spradling be disbarred for carrying out what it described as a deliberate pattern of misconduct. It said she took a “win at all costs approach.”

“This is a huge decision,” said attorney Keen Umbehr, who filed a complaint against Spradling. “Disbarring a prosecutor is so rare.”

Umbehr made his complaint after Chandler, 61, was convicted of murdering her ex-husband and his fiancee in Shawnee County. Her conviction was overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court after it found Spradling engaged in prosecutorial misconduct.

Kansas’ Office of the Disciplinary Administrator had said Spradling made seven errors at trial, including presenting evidence that was not true, making an improper comment in hopes of gaining sympathy and disregarding a judge’s order to avoid making reference to people attending the trial.

Spradling did not respond to a voicemail left Friday.

Chandler, who maintains she is innocent in the 2002 murders, is set to be retried in July.

Umbehr noted he filed the first complaint against Spradling in July 2016 and said the amount of time the case took to reach Friday’s decision “can’t be allowed to happen again.”

“Prosecutors are endowed with such an amazing amount of power over people’s lives and with great power comes great accountability,” he said. “And she misused that power and she’s hurt a lot of people.”

In their opinion Friday, the justices found that Spradling violated the rules of professional conduct in Chandler’s case, saying her “intolerable acts of deception” warranted disbarment.

The court also said Spradling did not violate any rules, as was alleged by the disciplinary panel, in the prosecution of Jacob Ewing, who was convicted of rape and other sex crimes in 2017 in Holton, north of Topeka.

Ewing’s case was reversed by the Kansas Court of Appeals, which said Spradling misstated evidence and made comments intended “to inflame the passions and prejudices of the jury.” After the case was sent back to district court, Ewing pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual battery, according to The Associated Press.

In both cases, Spradling, who was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1992, was accused of using “misstatements and misdirection” to persuade the juries and making references to evidence that did not exist.

During a 2020 hearing, Spradling’s attorney LJ Leatherman said Spradling’s conduct was not intentional.

Justice Evelyn Wilson dissented from the opinion Friday, noting the disciplinary administrator recommended Spradling be suspended indefinitely, not disbarred, and saying some of Spradling’s mistakes were made by other professionals.

“I believe we have inadequately appreciated the reasons Spradling’s mistakes happened, and I am convinced we have punished too harshly,” Wilson wrote.

Last year, Spradling said she retired from her then-role as the attorney for Bourbon County in southeast Kansas.