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The Kansas Marshall Plan: Good Ol’ Boy Politics

Justice: Kansas Style

The Marshall Plan was initiated in 1948 to help Europe rebuild after World War II. Interestingly, Kansas also has a Marshall plan named for Kansan Roger Marshall. It helps prominent Republicans rebuild their political careers after committing a crime.

After a dispute with his neighbor in 2008, Roger Marshall attempted to run his neighbor over with his pickup and apparently hit him. Instead of being charged with attempted vehicular homicide, a felony, Marshall was charged with battery and reckless driving, both misdemeanors. But that was not all. As part of a negotiation with the prosecutor, the battery charge was dropped. Marshall pleaded “no contest” to reckless driving and was given a five-day suspended sentence plus a $225 fine. However, the reckless driving conviction was then wiped from the records and reduced to a minor traffic infraction, “failure to exercise due care in regard to a pedestrian” – something akin to stopping in a crosswalk.

It helped that Marshall was a prominent Republican, and the prosecutor was the son of his business partner. Marshall has always denied he hit his neighbor, but his neighbor thought otherwise and filed a civil suit, which Marshall settled out of court. But, with that minor traffic violation behind him, Roger Marshall went on to become a US Representative, and he is now a Senator.

Last year, a Kansas Senator pulled off an even greater coup. About 2:30 in a morning in March, the 911 dispatcher received several calls about a white SUV driving the wrong direction on Interstate 70 in Topeka. A policeman gave pursuit, also going the wrong way, but the SUV ignored the lights and sirens and fled at speeds approaching 100 mph through Topeka, making multiple vehicles swerve to avoid head-on collisions. When the SUV was finally stopped, the driver reeked of alcohol and struggled to speak. The driver was none other than Gene Suellentrop, the Vice President of the Kansas Senate. After being taken into custody, Suellentrop was verbally abusive to law enforcement officers attempting to test his blood alcohol level. He called the arresting officer a “donut boy,” the officer wrote in his report and Suellentrop bragged that he could beat the officer in a fight because he had played sports competitively in high school.

Suellentrop refused to voluntarily take a breath test, and a search warrant had to be obtained to compel the senator to give a blood sample for testing. Even after the elapsed time, his blood alcohol was 0.17%, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08% in Kansas. The charges against Suellentrop, included a DUI, reckless driving, driving the wrong way on a divided highway, speeding, a felony attempt to elude the police, twice, and threatening to hurt the officer. That sounds like it should be some serious jail time.

But it wasn’t. The prosecutor said that since it was Suellentrop’s first offense, he should get leniency. How many first offenses does someone get? It seems like the first offense was driving while intoxicated, the second was driving the wrong way on a divided interstate, the third was speeding, the fourth was reckless driving, the fifth was avoiding a police officer, a felony, and the sixth was threatening the police officer. However, Suellentrop was a beneficiary of the Marshall plan. He was sentenced to six months in jail for the DUI.  It was reduced to 12 months supervised probation and a fine of $750. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail for reckless driving. It was reduced to six months of supervised probation with a $25 fine. Both probation sentences were to run concurrently, but he had to serve 48 hours in jail – time already served. The felony charge of attempting to elude police was dropped as part of the plea bargain. A felony conviction would have cost him his position in the Senate. His driver’s license was suspended until June of 2022, but after 90 days he was able to appeal for its reinstatement, and he already has his license back. Under public pressure, he was removed as Vice President of the Senate, but he remains in the Senate.

So – in summary – 12 months supervised probation and $775 in fines, and he gets to retain his Senate seat. Even Roger Marshall didn’t get a deal like that.

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