Former colleagues battle in DA race
When it comes to the main differences between the two candidates for Johnson County district attorney, one candidate says it’s all about experience, while the other says the difference is in his style of leadership.
Democrat Rick Guinn of Overland Park said his time working in the District Attorney’s office from 1981 to 2006, and now in the Kansas Attorney General’s Office since 2007, makes him the most qualified candidate.
“My opponent has never successfully prosecuted a murder case,” Guinn said. “He tried once but did not obtain a conviction. The reason I know this is because I assigned him that case.”
Guinn, 53, said that he served as Republican opponent Steve Howe’s superior for nearly 20 years, and his track record obtaining convictions speaks for itself.
“I think a serious evaluation about the kind of cases that I have tried will highlight the prosecutorial responsibilities that each of us had,” he said. “I am the experience candidate.”
Howe, a Shawnee resident, was an assistant district attorney in Shawnee County for two years and came to the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office in 1991, where he worked for the next 16 years. He said both he and Guinn are experienced prosecutors, so the election really boiled down to leadership style.
“I am the one independent candidate who can move the office forward and away from politics playing a role in the office,” the 46-year-old Howe said. “My opponent has pledged in our debates and on television that he will fire nearly half the lawyers in the office, because they were hired by the current administration.
“I have indicated that in my administration each and every person will be judged on their merits and not their political affiliation. To do otherwise places politics ahead of public safety.”
As they transition from the Phill Kline administration to their own, the candidates also have different plans.
Howe said the turnover of prosecutors in the last three years has impacted the efficiency and effectiveness of the office, and it would be necessary to provide more training to young prosecutors. He said he would review the current cases to determine how best to move forward but would not clear the office staff immediately.
“I will evaluate all the staff and make decisions based on their performance,” Howe said. “I will not have a litmus test based on political affiliation.”
But Guinn said the performance of those hired by Kline is “wholly unacceptable,” with a 46 percent conviction rate in 2007 and two-thirds fewer cases going to trial than is typical. He said the current staff’s two-year track record should be enough to evaluate their job performance.
“I intend to determine who is an effective prosecutor and who is not,” Guinn said. “And those who are not will not be asked to remain. They will be replaced by career prosecutors who have expressed a desire to return to the office should I be elected.”
While campaigning during the primary, Kline said the office's jury trial conviction rate was at 75 percent, a five year high, since he took office.
Guinn said that if he is elected, his first actions outside of the administrative transition would be to start repairing relationships with leaders in law enforcement, schools, hospitals, businesses and others, which he says have been severed under the current administration.
Howe said he would target career criminals, reinstate a consumer protection or white-collar crime unit, and lead an effort to bring about noncourt related sanctions and accountability to first-time juvenile offenders for certain minor offenses.
In the next four years, Howe said the biggest challenge the District Attorney’s Office will face is the impact the Internet has had on crime.
“Crimes ranging from sexual predators to identify theft and fraud have continued to grow,” he said. “The District Attorney’s Office needs to work hand and hand with law enforcement to be proactive and aggressive at shutting down this avenue for criminals.”
Guinn, however, said the office’s biggest challenge in the next four years will be rejuvenating the office and establishing relationships in the community.
“This relationship is important to establish trust with the judicial system, but also to provide education for all citizens of our community as a way of crime prevention,” Guinn said. “I believe this has played an important role to Johnson County’s success and is something that I plan to restart if elected.”
Both candidates say they oppose the ballot proposal to elect judges, saying judges should not be politicians.
Both candidates also have been endorsed by various civic leaders. Guinn noted his endorsement by two Shawnee retired police chiefs, Charles Clark and Tom Hazelton, along with most of the law enforcement community in the county and 28 former assistant district attorneys in the county.
Howe has received the endorsements of eight mayors in the county, along with several other civic leaders and elected officials.