The attorney representing Sheriff Brian Bellendir in Barton County District Court said County Attorney Amy Mellor has an ethical conflict of interest in the case, and he asked to see emails between Mellor and Chase County Attorney William R. Halvorsen, who was assigned to prosecute the case.
Bellendir was charged last October with one count of mistreatment of a confined person, Nathan B. Manley. The charge is a misdemeanor.
At a motions hearing Thursday, Senior Judge Edward Bouker reminded the defense, “It is not the county attorney that appointed Mr. Halvorsen.”
The appointment was made by District Judge Mike Keeley, who then recused himself from the case that was eventually assigned to Bouker, a senior judge from Hays.
“She disqualified herself but first found an assistant to prosecute the case,” defense attorney Jess Hoeme said. “The way this was propped up and presented to Judge Keeley was inappropriate. ... He was hoodwinked by Amy Mellor, the county attorney.”
Halvorsen disagreed with the characterization of why Mellor recused herself from the case.
“She chose as a matter of discernment and judgment to step aside,” he said. “She did not have an ‘ethical conflict.’”
Hoeme subpoenaed County Clerk Donna Zimmerman to produce emails between Mellor and Halvorsen. He also wanted emails that involved Mellor’s assistant county attorneys; those who investigated the case; Mellor’s husband, Kansas Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Bruce Mellor; and Gary Steed, executive director of the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer’ Standards and Training. Mellor is a voting member of that board, referred to as “CPOST.”
Barton County Counselor Carey Hipp said the only objection the county has to providing the emails is that it wasn’t given enough time. One subpoena reached Zimmerman on Tuesday afternoon. “Barton County wants to be open and transparent,” Hipp said.
Hoeme said the late subpoena was part of the defense’s continual investigation. “If they want more time, give them all they need,” he said.
Thursday was originally supposed to have been the date of Bellendir’s jury trial.
“As soon as I set the trial, your office said Jess is going to file motions,” Bouker said. “We need to be prompt with this.”
Bouker said some of the emails requested would provide information that had nothing to do with the case, or that the defense would not be allowed to see, such as the prosecution’s trial preparation.
“Your objection is that Judge Keeley was, in your word, ‘hoodwinked’ by Miss Mellor, so we’re going to limit this to Miss Mellor and Mrs. Halvorsen,” Bouker said, adding he was “not just throwing open the floodgates. If I allow you to see this at all ... I’m going to take this one step at a time.”
The emails, which cover the period between Aug. 10, 2017, and Nov. 20, 2017, will first go to Halvorsen and then to Bouker.
“The CPOST stuff is out,” Bouker said.
“The defense is not allowed to go on a fishing expedition through discovery,” he said. “Get the emails together and I’ll see what we’re fighting over. You (Hoeme) must convince me they are relevant. If they are a fishing expedition with no relevance, you’re probably not going to see them.”
Other motions heard Thursday:
Halvorsen asked the court to endorse Great Bend Tribune Managing Editor Dale Hogg as a witness at the trial, and he asked that Bellendir be “processed at the jail” in the manner of most people charged with a crime, by submitting his fingerprints.
“Brian Bellendir is not a flight risk,” Hoeme objected. “Having the sheriff processed today is completely unnecessary.”
“I have to follow the law,” Bouker said, saying Bellendir must follow the same process as anyone else. “We don’t get to pick and choose what points of the law apply.”
The scheduling of the trial date will require checking with the Barton County District Court’s schedule, so it was not done during the hearing. The county has 14 days to produce the emails and Halvorsen will then have 14 days to file a response.