A Parsons man seeking dismissal of criminal charges filed against him and release from jail will wait until Monday to learn where his civil lawsuit is heading against two Labette County officials.
A status hearing took place Tuesday morning via the Zoom online meeting platform in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Mark A. Winchester, 118 S. 29th. His attorney is Lucas Nodine. Labette County Counselor Brian Johnson appeared for respondents in the civil suit, Labette County Attorney Stephen Jones and Labette County Sheriff Darren Eichinger. Senior Judge Gunnar Sundby is hearing the case. Sundby retired in 2018 from the First Judicial District, which includes Atchison and Leavenworth counties.
Winchester faces three counts of aggravated interference with parental custody, all level seven felonies, in Labette County District Court. A co-defendant, Bobbi Jo Stoneberger, is charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated interference with parental custody, all lower-level felonies. Winchester has been jailed more than a year in the case, which is more than he would serve if convicted and sentenced on one of the charges. Given Winchester’s criminal history and the crime charged, he would receive probation rather than prison anyway, Nodine argued.
Nodine filed the 34-page writ of habeas corpus with 35 pages of supporting documentation. Nodine alleges violation of his client’s Sixth Amendment right to speedy trial, among other claims.
The history of the Winchester case dates to June 2018, when the complaint was filed. Nodine was the second attorney appointed to the case, taking over in April 2019. Delays plagued the case for various reasons.
The preliminary hearing took place Jan. 9, after which Winchester and Stoneberger were ordered tried; arraignment took place in February; a jury trial was set April 28 and then again on June 16 when the first setting didn’t go because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The trial has not taken place because of the pandemic and high court orders limiting in-person hearings. Nodine objected to delaying the trial at a March 16 hearing, before the Kansas Supreme Court and Gov. Laura Kelly issued orders, he wrote. The state’s high court issued a number of orders after this date restricting in-person hearings but allowing jury trials to commence in constitutional speedy trial cases. Winchester has been jailed on a $5,000 bond. He had been free on bond but was re-arrested for violating judge-imposed bond conditions, Johnson said during the hearing.
Nodine reviewed legal issues in his filing, but the crux of the argument relates to constitutional speedy trial.
Based on high court orders, jury trials for most defendants in Kansas may not happen until July 12, 2021, though that timeline is in flux. Speedy trial trumps court orders but how to select and seat jurors during a pandemic have been in question.
Johnson filed a response to Nodine’s petition, admitting and denying portions of the petition, and told Sundby that he would file a motion to dismiss the petition on Wednesday. He said he also needed more time to get access to the criminal case to review it but realized the case was time sensitive. Johnson added that Nodine may need time to respond to the motion to dismiss as well.
Both attorneys agreed that Sundby could rule on the facts of the case, and a decision has not been made if testimony would be required or if the case would be decided on the filings. Sundby said he wants to decide the case quickly because it’s an important issue and his decision is likely to be appealed.
Monday’s hearing will be by Zoom again.