County attorney candidate withdraws from race

Jeff Guy
Martin Keenan

Martin Keenan, a Democrat and the only candidate for Sumner County Attorney in the Nov. 3 election, has withdrawn from seeking the position, saying he has accepted an unexpected offer to join a Wichita law firm.

Keenan, who has been practicing law for 35 years, would have assumed the office on Jan. 11, 2021, taking over for current County Attorney Kerwin Spencer, who is retiring.

“This is not about the salary or benefits of the Sumner County Attorney position,” Keenan said.

The county attorney job pays in the 70k per year range and includes health insurance and KPERS

“The problem for me was that COVID-19 put me in a financial situation that was untenable and I could not afford to wait until January to take office,” Keenan said.

Since the day he filed for the county attorney position, on June 1, Keenan has stopped taking on new cases in his solo law practice, which he started, Jan. 1, 2020. Although he did take some “low paying gigs” that would be completed by Jan. 11.

“Being a solo practitioner of a brand new business is what created the problem,” Keenan said. “I had no one to pass my private cases to on January 11, so I quit taking on new cases and even refunded some retainers on felony cases that I knew would not go to a jury trial after Jan. 11. So this created a cash crunch.”

Keenan did not qualify for government loans, he said.

His family had some unexpected financial emergency regarding one of my sons which contributed to this financial crisis, Keenan said.

“The opportunity to work for this new firm was not something I sought out, but I was grateful because it solved a lot of financial problems and will be a good fit for me,” Keenan said.

Contacted by email, Keenan wouldn’t say what law firm he will be working for, starting Nov. 1. While he will make more money working for the law firm than he would have as Sumner County Attorney, he said the issue for me was not salary, “but cash flow and continuity.”

Keenan said he realizes it is too late for the Democratic Party to put another name on the ballot. He said he wanted to give the Sumner County Commission 90 days advance notice to fill the position. Spencer will remain Sumner County Attorney until Jan. 11, 2021.

“Being impeccable with my word and my commitments is a core value for me, so I am uncomfortable doing what I am doing here,” Keenan said. “But I really had no choice from a financial point of view. I am very sorry for any inconvenience this is causing Sumner County. The last thing I wanted to do was put Sumner County in a tight spot.”

Sumner County Clerk Debra Norris, who also got word of Keenan’s resignation this morning, said she is researching the situation and is in contact with the Kansas Secretary of State’s office for guidance. Norris hopes to send out a news release next week.

Sumner County Commissioner Jim Newell said the board will have Norris and Sumner County Counselor Jack Potucek look into what to do next.

“To be honest, I don’t know what we’ll do,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had this happen before.”