It had been a long time since Amy (Brunner) Hanley was in Marion County’s courtroom.
Fifteen years ago, she visited the courtroom for a 4-H meeting. Now she is back, helping convict Robert Smyser of aggravated criminal sodomy in a child abuse case.
A special prosecutor with the Kansas attorney general’s office, she led the case against Smyser at the request of County Attorney Susan Robson.
“Most of the cases we handle are homicides or sex offenses,” Hanley said. “The local county attorney often will assist us with cases.”
She became prosecutor in the case the way she does in other cases when a county attorney requests assistance from the attorney general’s office in prosecuting a local case.
Robson assisted with Smyer’s case and asked for a special prosecutor to handle the case.
“I often ask the attorney general’s office for assistance because they have more expertise with newer laws like Jessica’s Law,” Robson said.
Other reasons may be a conflict of interest between the county attorney and a defendant or a case load that makes it difficult for the county attorney to spend time preparing and prosecuting the case.
Hanley knew early on that she wanted to be an attorney. During her first year of law school, she knew criminal law was for her.
“My values and mentality are a better fit as a prosecutor,” she said.
Baptism by fire came by way of a county attorney’s office in Iowa, where she served a summer internship.
During that summer, she prosecuted three cases with jury trials.
Interns are allowed to practice under the licenses of qualified attorneys.
“I got a lot of good experience that way,” Hanley said.
As a member of the attorney general’s prosecuting team, she carries a full docket of cases — picking up at least one case per week.
It takes about a month to prepare for a criminal case.
Much of her time is spent traveling to Kansas counties for court hearings and meetings to discuss cases.
“In this position, an attorney has to be organized and focused,” Hanley said.
Monday morning, as Hanley was waiting for a jury to return its verdict in the child molestation case, she said, in her words, “a bundle of nerves.”
“Most people think I should be able to relax when a case is in the hands of a jury but that’s when I get more nervous because I know there is nothing more I can do,” she said. “When it’s to the jury, it’s out of my hands. I have to accept the jury’s decision.”
Hanley said she was the most nervous after a jury returned to a courtroom and she was awaiting announcement of verdicts.
Hanley, the daughter of Kent and Jean Brunner of rural Lost Springs, graduated from Centre High School in 1993, played volleyball for a year at Bethany College in Lindsborg, and then earned a degree in 1998 from Kansas State University.
She went on to Drake Law School in Des Moines, earning a degree in 2001. She was a lobbyist for a year with Kansas Association of School Boards, passing the bar exam that year.
She was first assistant to the Saline County attorney and served as a prosecutor from 2002 to 2009.
In June, she accepted a position with the attorney general’s office in Topeka, serving as one of 10 prosecutors in the criminal division.
Hanley draws on her Marion County upbringing in trying cases.
Attending a smaller school like Centre was helpful, as was her involvement in 4-H.
“I was able to be a part of everything because of the size of the school,” Hanley said.
She and her husband, John, are relocating to Topeka. John is marketing coordinator and an officer with Sunflower Bank in Salina.
Family is never far from Hanley’s mind. She visits every chance she gets.
Her folks continue to live in rural Lost Springs. She is the eldest of three children. Her siblings are a brother, Nolan, his wife, Melissa, and two children, who live in Herington, and Jill and her son who live in Emporia.
Spending this week in the Marion County courtroom brought back fond memories.
“The last time I was in this court room was when I was in 4-H and I attended a county council meeting,” she said.
Despite her success in the courtroom, Hanley hasn’t forgotten her roots.
“The community shaped me as a person and was the foundation for my values I have as a person and as an attorney,” she said.