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Gene Suellentrop’s high-speed chase on Interstate 70 is sure getting slow-played in the courts.
After his arrest last March for DUI, high-speed wrong-way driving and attempting to elude law enforcement, Suellentrop’s Kansas Senate colleagues said the then-Senate majority leader deserved due process. But four months later, the process seems pretty darn overdue. The case can’t even get scheduled for a scheduling hearing, odd as that sounds.
Shawnee County District Court in Topeka tried to get the case on a Criminal Assignment Docket in June, then earlier this month, and will try again “by agreement of the parties” Aug. 5. Again, even that is just a hearing to get the case scheduled for real hearings.
What is taking so long? Do you think you’d get a summer by the pool if this were you?
Delays in court proceedings are routine, certainly. But this case isn’t exactly an Agatha Christie murder mystery to unravel. Either he drove drunk something close to 90 miles per hour in a 65 mph zone, and on the wrong side of I-70 in downtown Topeka in the wee hours, or he didn’t.
Among the five charges against him, none is for threatening a law enforcement officer, which the high-ranking legislator also is alleged to have done — calling the officer “doughnut boy” and boasting that he could take the officer in a fight.
At some point, you have to wonder if the Republican state senator from Wichita — still technically in good standing as a legislator, although March 16 he apparently could hardly stand at all — is filibustering the proceedings. To what end? And how can others get that kind of deal?
Suellentrop’s integrity was always going to be in question after this debacle, in which he was just stupid lucky not to have killed someone on the road. But now the criminal justice system’s integrity is the issue. Will a formerly powerful and well-connected legislative leader truly be held to account for his alleged reckless actions, which include the felony of attempting to elude law enforcement?
His hold on legislative power got the same peaceful, easy treatment: For a long time after his arrest, Suellentrop was allowed to keep his Senate majority leader position. And The Star Editorial Board discovered that he really didn’t back away from his leadership role and influence, despite a promise to do so.
Ultimately it took an unbridled mutiny of rank-and-file Kansas Senate Republicans to strip Suellentrop of his leadership position. There are claw marks where Suellentrop clung desperately to the mantle.
As for the remaining Republican legislative leaders, what don’t they understand about all this that the rest of us do? That these are serious, even outrageous charges — flying drunk down the wrong side of an interstate, which generally gets people killed, and not just bumping a median on the way home after one glass of wine too many? Do they not understand that the slow-motion, no-accountability path this case is on will only tar the Kansas Legislature and all public officials with Suellentrop’s own behavior?
The longer this case flop, flop, flops along like it’s had stop sticks deployed against it, the more the public will suspect that rank political influence is being brought to bear, whether that’s true or not.
Get on with it, for heaven’s sake. And for the sake of the criminal justice system.