Candidates for district attorney met headwinds but navigated around them 

Righting the ship

click to enlarge Michael Allen was fired in Kansas, but later resigned. - COURTESY MICHAEL ALLEN CAMPAIGN
  • Courtesy Michael Allen campaign
  • Michael Allen was fired in Kansas, but later resigned.
The two announced candidates for district attorney, both Republicans, have encountered stumbling blocks along their career paths, but neither allowed the setbacks to keep them from their goals.

Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen was fired from a prosecutor job in Kansas in a political maneuver, while El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller initially failed the bar exam.

Allen says the takeaway from his firing will impact how he oversees the DA’s office, if elected.

“That experience absolutely informed me of how I would conduct myself coming into the office as DA,” he tells the Independent. “To treat people fairly and keep politics out of the decision-making process.”

Waller says he later passed the bar and has accumulated the experience necessary to lead the DA’s office.

Allen’s story begins shortly after he graduated from the University of Kansas’ law school in 2005 and joined the Johnson County, Kansas, DA’s Office. In January 2007, his boss, DA Paul Morrison, left the office to become Kansas attorney general, to which he’d been elected in November 2006 over Republican incumbent Phill Kline. (Morrison switched parties to Democrat to run against Kline.)

After a Republican central committee appointed Kline to the unexpired DA term vacated by Morrison, Kline terminated eight prosecutors, including Allen.

“This was just an office transition,” says Kline, reached by phone at Liberty University in Virginia, where he now teaches. “There’s not a substantive reason for Mr. Allen being let go.”

Kline notes the eight attorneys served as at-will employees, whom he replaced with his own appointees.

It’s worth noting that in 2013, the Kansas Supreme Court suspended Kline’s law license indefinitely after finding “clear and convincing evidence” that Kline violated 11 rules of attorney professional conduct, including by providing false testimony, according to the Kansas City Star. The case arose from Kline’s investigation of the late George Tiller’s abortion clinic in Wichita and Planned Parenthood in Overland Park, and from his handling of a grand jury while DA. (Tiller was gunned down in May 2009 at his church by an anti-abortion activist.)

Asked about his license suspension, Kline says, “The Kansas Supreme Court took exception with that investigation, and I take exception with [the court].”

After taking office as AG in January 2007, Morrison hired Allen following his termination.
Morrison resigned in January 2008 amid a scandal arising from his admitted affair with a DA’s administrator that continued after he became attorney general, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Allen left the AG’s office in March 2008 to take a job with the Douglas County DA’s Office.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by Allen and the other fired attorneys against Kline was dismissed in June 2008.

“Through that process,” Allen says, “we were reinstated to our jobs so we could say we weren’t fired and were allowed to resign.”

In October 2011, 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May hired Allen. On his job application, although Allen was fired before he joined the DA’s office, he stated he left the Johnson County DA’s Office “to join former DA in the attorney general’s office.”

Says Allen, “Am I being accurate or not? I think I am, because the firing was overturned, and I was allowed to resign.”

click to enlarge Mark Waller failed the bar exam at first, but later passed. - COURTESY MARK WALLER CAMPAIGN
  • Courtesy Mark Waller campaign
  • Mark Waller failed the bar exam at first, but later passed.
May, who’s endorsed Allen, says he was aware of the firing, because Allen disclosed it during his job interview. “He was very straight forward about it,” May says, adding that firing good people for political reasons “cripples your office.”

Mayor John Suthers, DA from 1989 to 1997, says Allen’s termination has no bearing on his endorsement in the race.

Noting he’s aware of the historical context, Suthers says via email, “Mr. Kline was a highly political person who actually got disbarred for pursuing a political agenda in office. Had Mr. Allen worked any length of time for Mr. Kline I would not be supporting him. As it is, Mr. Allen knows first hand how disastrous it is when a highly political person takes over a prosecutor’s office.”

Allen, who’s won convictions in seven murder cases, has received annual merit pay bumps; his pay rose from $59,000 in 2011 to $108,100.

The DA’s job pays $215,000 a year.
Waller, Allen’s opponent, says he has no issues with Allen’s firing or how he filled out his job application.

Asked about initially failing the bar exam, Waller refuses to discuss it.

“I just don’t see the relevance of it,” he says. “I’ve been a licensed attorney the last 15 years. I’ve demonstrated tremendous leadership ability since that time. The last 15 years has demonstrated that I certainly am the person with the breadth and depth of knowledge to do this job and do it well.”

It’s not unusual to retake the bar exam. The Colorado Supreme Court reports that 39 percent failed the test in February 2019, and 37 percent failed the prior year.

“They can do and say whatever they want,” Waller says. “I’m not going to engage in that sort of [campaign] stuff.” (The Allen campaign was not the source of Waller’s bar exam history.)

“I’ve been a licensed attorney for the last 15 years, and that’s what’s important here,” Waller adds. “I’ve built demonstrated credentials related to experience and leadership necessary to run that office well.”

Waller earned a law degree from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law in 2003 and worked for the 4th Judicial District DA’s Office as an intern in 2002-03 and again as a part-time deputy in 2001-12. He also worked at the 10th Judicial District in Pueblo. Waller didn’t respond to a question about how many murder cases he’s prosecuted.

After his Air Force service from 1993 to 2000, he was a reservist from 2001 to 2009; he deployed to Iraq in 2006.

As a member of the Colorado House of Representatives from 2009 to 2014, Waller held seats on committees for the judiciary, veterans and military affairs, local government and legal services and on the Legislative Council.

After his appointment to the Board of El Paso County Commissioners in July 2016 to serve an unexpired term, he won a full term in November 2016.

El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder didn’t respond to a request for comment about his endorsement of Waller.

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