Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nola Foulston to retire as district attorney

Posted on Fri, Sep. 16, 2011

District Attorney Nola Foulston, who prosecuted Sedgwick County's most notorious criminals for nearly a quarter-century, has decided to retire."At some point in time, you have to say it's time to give someone else a chance," she told the Eagle in explaining her decision to leave office.In a letter she plans to share today with her staff, friends and colleagues, Foulston said she will enter private practice when her current term expires."After over 30 years in public service, I have made the decision to 'retire' at the end of my term as district attorney in January of 2013 and plan to return to the private practice of law at that time," she said in the letter. "I have had a wonderful experience as district attorney, and feel that it's time now for me to step down from this position and become a private citizen."Foulston said in an interview at her home that she had been thinking for some time about returning to private life. "It's kind of like being a football player," she said. "I don't want to play until my legs are broken or I can't work any more."Foulston, 60, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, but she said the disease is in remission and her health had nothing to do with her decision. She said she had no specific plans other than to resume the practice of law as a private citizen.She was first elected in 1988, and was never seriously challenged in her five bids for re-election.Foulston said she seriously considered not entering the 2008 race, but decided she had to run after Republican Mark Schoenhofer entered the contest. She said she was concerned about changes Schoenhofer might make in the office, which now has an $8 million annual budget and 130 employees, 55 of whom are lawyers. "I felt an obligation to keep the staff intact," she said.She won the election with about 55 percent of the vote.Foulston said a half-dozen of her top assistants were qualified to run the office, but to date only Deputy District Attorney Marc Bennett has expressed an interest in the job. Bennett, a Republican, is the only announced candidate in the race."Any of them could handle the reins of that office without a hitch, and that includes Marc," she said.Foulston said she has no plans to endorse any candidate, and said voters should have the only say in deciding who occupies the office during the upcoming term."You and I both know that hand-picked successors never go anywhere," she said.Before her first race in 1988, Foulston switched parties to become a Democrat, then criticized incumbent Republican District Attorney Clark Owens for his handling of two high-profile murder cases.The cases — the Dec. 30, 1987, slayings of Wichita accountant Phillip Fager and his two daughters, and the New Year's night murder that same week of Wichita State University student Alice Mayfield — both ended in not-guilty jury verdicts. Foulston campaigned on a promise to take high-profile cases into the courtroom herself. She won the election with 60 percent of the vote.In the 1992 election, Foulston defeated Republican challenger Clarence Holeman — a member of Owens' staff who had been fired by Foulston — by a ratio of more than 2-1. She ran unopposed in 1996, 2000 and 2004.Foulston said she has been approached by Democratic Party officials several times over the years about running for another office. She said she was asked often about running for the 4th District seat in Congress, which has been in Republican hands since 1994. She said she never had an interest in that job."I'm not a politician; I'm a prosecutor," she said.During her six terms in office, Foulston has twice appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court. Both cases ended with the Court upholding 1994 Kansas laws by 5-4 votes. In June 2006, the Court upheld the state's death penalty. A year later, the Court upheld the state's Sexual Predator law, which allows for the indefinite confinement of some sex offenders for mental health treatment after they have served their criminal sentences.Both cases originated in Sedgwick County District Court.Foulston gained national attention in 2005 for her role in the prosecution of Dennis Rader, who pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder as he confessed to being the BTK serial killer. She also was in the national spotlight in the fall of 2002 as she prosecuted Reginald and Jonathan Carr, who were convicted and sentenced to death after a crime spree that left five dead.Nearly a decade earlier, in 1994, Foulston was the prosecutor in an equally troubling murder case — the July 30, 1990, abduction, rape and strangulation of 9-year-old Nancy Shoemaker.In those pre-capital punishment days, Doil Lane was convicted of Nancy's murder and given a Hard 40 prison sentence — a sentence of a minimum of 40 years without parole — which at the time was the maximum allowed under Kansas law.Foulston and her husband, Wichita lawyer Steve Foulston, have been married for about 29 years and have a son, Andrew, who is a senior at the University of Kansas. He is majoring in finance with a minor in Chinese, Foulston said, and has expressed no interest in becoming a lawyer.

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or

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