- Associated Press
Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Manhattan Mercury, Sept. 27

Olathe schools’ suit against Juul is a good idea

We don’t pretend to know how a court case will play out, but we’re encouraged to see an attempt to hold vaping companies to account.

The Olathe School District was expected on Friday to approve a lawsuit against Juul, the maker of the little electronic gizmos through which people inhale nicotine vapor. We would encourage Manhattan-area districts to seriously consider that tactic.

Vapes - the term used to refer to the gizmos - are legal products. In fact, they initially seemed like a good alternative for people addicted to regular cigarettes, in the sense that they did not contain as many cancer-causing elements. “Second-hand smoke” is also not nearly the issue for vapes, since the byproduct is essentially water vapor. Those facts remain true.

But they are still addictive, since they typically include nicotine. And the other chemicals in them have largely unknown effects. Some vape cartridges contain THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes the high, although those would be illegal in Kansas and other states that still have laws against pot use. Recently, some vapes appear to have caused serious respiratory problems and even deaths, although that appears to be linked to some sort of contaminant in the vape cartridge.

We’re getting a little sidetracked. The point is that vapes are addictive, and they’ve been marketed to kids, and so we have an epidemic on our hands of young people using them. Schools, including Manhattan’s public school system, have been forced to deal with that epidemic, including countless hours of staff time and, in some cases, the purchase of new equipment. Witness the forum held earlier this week at Manhattan High, just to educate parents about what to look for and what to do when their kids start the habit.

Thus far, it’s the taxpayers who have to foot the bill for that time and equipment.

That seems fundamentally unfair. The companies who make that product and have marketed it to young people ought to bear some of the burden. Or at least it seems like a court ought to review whether the companies should.

We recognize that there’s a slippery-slope element to this argument. If we stretch it too far, we’d be arguing that Apple, Snapchat and Facebook ought to underwrite all the staff time used to counteract the addictive effects of their endorphine-jolting digital services.

Well, look. Vape companies obviously knew they were selling an addictive product, and they assertively sold them to young people. At least, it seems worth litigating whether they ought to be required to take some financial responsibility for the consequences.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 29

We must address rise in teen suicides

We should all be alarmed by the recent increase in Kansas teen suicide rates.

According to the State Child Death Review Board - a little-known body with an incredibly important job - there were 32 teen suicides in 2017, compared with 20 in 2016. For deaths by suicide across all ages, Kansas has seen a 45 percent increase from 1999 to 2016, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s important to be aware of the problem, and important to address it. That’s why it’s heartening to see Gov. Laura Kelly, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and state legislators step up. Everyone wants to do the right thing.

But how do you actually accomplish it?

Yes, we need to listen to our kids. Yes, they need to feel free to share their feelings with us and other trusted adults. Yes, they need to know that there is no shame or judgment in store if they’re struggling. But we can do more.

We know, for example, that LGBT youth often face and increased risk of suicide because of bullying and harassment. But legislators in our state have been unwilling to make discrimination against gay and lesbian people illegal. That would be a simple and powerful signal that everyone is valued in the state.

We know that teens can lose themselves in social media and online cliques, where cyberbullying takes an immense toll. But we continue to buy children smart phones and insist that technology be integrated into classrooms. Arguably, sensible limits would have positive mental health affects.

We know that teens - and everyone else, for that matter - benefit from stable and resourced home environments. But as our economy and the world changes, more and more people face financial ruin if they miss a single paycheck or lose health insurance. We could bolster programs that offer training and support for parents who work every day for their families.

And perhaps most importantly, we need to tackle the stigma surrounding mental illness. If a child breaks a limb, we take them to a doctor. If a child is depressed, we tell them to snap out of it. They deserve medical attention. Doing so will literally save lives.

It will take all of us, working on many levels to address this challenge. Our teenagers need to feel that the opportunities they have, and the lives they will experience, will be full of meaning and joy and value. We owe that to them.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night, or chat online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.


The Kansas City Star, Sept. 29

Wyandotte County DA’s office nearly botched a second sex abuse case. What’s going on?

Just weeks after nearly having a high-profile sex assault case thrown out for apparent dereliction of duty, the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office has, inexcusably, done it again.

Though declining to dismiss the nefarious charges against Dennis E. Clark - the nurse accused of sexually assaulting anesthetized patients at two Kansas City-area hospitals - a judge did sanction the DA’s office financially Friday for negligently slow-walking parts of the case this year.

Inexplicably, Assistant District Attorney Crystalyn Oswald’s case against Clark - first brought by another prosecutor way back in 2014 - hit the shoals for her indefensibly and repeatedly failing to provide Clark’s attorney with evidence in the state’s possession as required by law.

Similarly, the case against Michael E. Mastel, the former Wyandotte County deputy charged with child sex abuse, nearly ran aground a month ago after the district attorney’s office failed to hand over its evidence to the defense, and a prosecutor showed up to a scheduled preliminary hearing unprepared to go forward. That hearing was allowed to proceed a week later, and Mastel was eventually bound over for an upcoming trial, but only by the good graces of a forbearing judge.

The judge and defense attorney in the Clark case have likewise indulged the district attorney’s peculiar foot-dragging - until now. The law is the law, and must be applied equally, no matter how despicable the crimes. In an extraordinary sanction, Judge Michael A. Russell fined the DA’s office an unspecified amount for the extra time Clark’s defense attorney put into the case due to delays in obtaining the evidence, including the time spent researching and filing the motion to dismiss the case.

It’s sheer providence that Clark wasn’t already out on the streets; in an almost identical Johnson County case, he’s currently serving nearly 13 years for sexual assaults on three patients at Overland Park’s Menorah Medical Center.

There are now five known victims in the Wyandotte County case, arising from alleged assaults in 2014 at Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

Damningly, Kansas City, Kansas, Police Detective Stuart Littlefield testified at a Sept. 20 hearing that the DA’s office had never subpoenaed nor even alerted him about a scheduled Sept. 16 trial in the Clark case.

Clark’s defense attorney, James L. Spies, also noted that, after months of delays in getting the evidence in the case from the district attorney’s office - and even Judge Russell’s directive to the prosecutor to get it done last April - the prosecutor interestingly managed to get him the evidence some 30 hours after Spies filed the motion to dismiss Sept. 4.

Only after the case had reached the edge of the cliff.

Motions to dismiss are normally a matter of some routine. That the judge in this case took a week to rule - and multiple sources tell The Star that the motion was a conspicuous topic of discussion in the Wyandotte County courts in recent days - indicates just how perilously close the district attorney’s office came to blowing this case completely and having it dismissed permanently.

That two such significant, high-profile sex abuse cases have been dangled over a legal precipice in just the past month also suggests the potential of a disturbing pattern - one that risks letting serious offenders walk, and presents a possible public safety hazard.

The delays alone risk successful prosecution: One victim in the Johnson County case has since died. Meanwhile, the Wyandotte County victims and loved ones are still waiting for justice.

It’s also possible that with Wyandotte County convictions added onto the Johnson County case that Clark could serve life in prison without parole. Without the Wyandotte case, the clock is already ticking on his release.

As part of his sanctions against the DA’s office, the judge Friday also prohibited the prosecution from telling the jury about Clark’s Johnson County convictions.

That’s a huge, albeit richly deserved blow. The DA’s office is just lucky the case wasn’t dismissed for all time.

It all raises the question: What in heaven’s name is going on at the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office? Even if the Clark case ends with convictions on these most heinous charges, the DA’s office will have much to answer for after fumbling these two cases to the brink of disaster.

The clumsiness of the district attorney’s office now has the full focus of the county’s criminal judges.

It needs the public’s rapt attention as well.

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