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New inquiry targets raid magistrate

Staff writer

After an initial review, Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct announced Monday a formal inquiry May 3 into whether Magistrate Judge Laura Viar violated the state’s code of judicial conduct by illegally notarizing search warrant applications without the signer being present.

The applications, later revoked, were used as justification for raids Aug. 11 at the Marion County Record and the homes of a city council member and the newspapers’ owners. Co-owner Joan Meyer died a day after the raids. A coroner’s report listed stress from the raids as a cause.

The commission’s inquiry, in response to a complaint by a Topeka resident unrelated to any of those targeted in the raids, marks the second time Viar’s role in issuing the warrants will be questioned officially.

While stressing that it did not necessarily agree with her decision to grant the warrants, the commission voted Nov. 8 to dismiss a charge of incompetence against her.

At the same time, the commission noted that it “issued informal advice to Judge Viar to take sufficient time to review all documents and research appropriate federal and state laws before issuing a search warrant.”

Federal law requires that subpoenas, which may be challenged, are required instead of warrants when authorities seek documents journalists possess for newsgathering.

Warrant applications must be notarized. As a licensed attorney, Viar also is a notary public.

Viar signed her name stating that the applications were “subscribed and sworn to before me” on the day of the raid even though Gideon Cody, who requested them, and the county attorney’s office, which delivered the forms to the judge, both have indicated that Cody was not present, as required by law.

Five days after the raid, the warrants were withdrawn as legally insufficient but not until after nearly all equipment needed to publish the newspaper had been seized.

The paper managed to publish that week by cobbling together discarded equipment and having key staffers work consecutive all-nighters.

Last modified April 24, 2024

 

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