The Kansas Supreme Court has thrown out felony charges against a Wyandotte County lawyer accused of defrauding the Kansas City, Kan., Board of Public Utilities.
Rodney L. Turner, 74, was indicted six years ago on charges that he bilked the BPU out of $400,000 by submitting phony legal bills.
However, the high court on Friday affirmed a 2009 District Court decision that found the case against Turner was tainted by a detective’s inappropriate testimony to the grand jury that indicted Turner on two counts of theft and 55 counts of filing a false claim.
Further, the unanimous decision raised questions about the strength of the evidence to support Turner’s indictment.
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His attorney, James Eisenbrandt, argued that the 2008 grand jury testimony of Kansas Bureau of Investigation special agent Bill Delaney was inappropriate and prejudicial.
Court documents show that Delaney suggested in his testimony that Turner and the other person indicted in the case, former BPU chief administrative officer Marc Conklin, were connected in some way to the unsolved 1987 murder of Wyandotte County Democratic Party chief Chuck Thompson.
Conklin committed suicide in March 2009.
Senior Judge Jack Lively dismissed the charges against Turner that same year in District Court, ruling that Delaney had poisoned the grand jury process by discussing Thompson’s murder and commenting on Turner’s refusal to testify before the grand jury.
Lively has since died.
The Kansas Court of Appeals reinstated the indictment in 2011. While agreeing that references to the Thompson murder investigation were “completely irrelevant to the grand jury proceedings,” the three-judge panel said that testimony wasn’t “sufficient to warrant a dismissal of the grand jury indictment.”
In its 33-page decision, the Supreme Court disagreed. The court said Turner’s rights against self-incrimination were violated when Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman asked questions that resulted in Turner invoking the Fifth Amendment more than 100 times.
The court also agreed that Delaney’s testimony was prejudicial. More than once, the decision said, the detective suggested to the grand jury that an indictment in the BPU case might provide him with leverage to extract information about the Thompson murder.
Eisenbrandt said he was happy for Turner and his family.
“It is clear from the Supreme Court opinion that not only was there an abuse of the grand jury process, but there was insufficient evidence to support the indictment,” Eisenbrandt said.
Gorman said that he was disappointed in the court’s ruling but that too much time had passed to refile charges against Turner.
Delaney, who retired from the KBI and now works for the state agency that investigates attorney misconduct, could not be reached for comment.
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