Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler makes first court appearance on felony perjury charge

Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler's next court appearance in Johnson County District Court is set for Monday, Jan. 11. File photo.

Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler made a brief first appearance in court Tuesday on a felony perjury charge that was filed against her last November.

The first appearance was to send the case to district court.

Magistrate Judge Dan Vokins set Distler’s next appearance for 9 a.m., Jan. 11, in the courtroom of District Court Judge Thomas Sutherland. Neither Distler nor her attorney, Robin Fowler, made any statements aside from agreeing to the next appearance.

Charge related to falsified open meetings complaint

Distler was arrested and charged with perjury in early December.

The charge is rooted in events that began March 7 of last year, when investigators with Shawnee Police received information that a complaint about an alleged open meetings violation had been made to the Kansas Attorney General’s office in someone else’s name without their permission.

The complaint was about a March email thread that included Distler, four city council members and at least some of the 30 people listed as witnesses in a criminal affidavit.

Having five members of the city’s governing body in discussion without public notification could be considered a violation of Kansas Open Meetings statutes, Distler said.

According to a criminal affidavit, Distler admitted to filling out an open meetings complaint form but said it was sent accidentally when she closed her iPad cover.

Distler told investigators she initially filled out the form as “anonymous” and then included the personal information of someone she described as a local “watchdog” who had often filed open meetings complaints against the city and her administration.

Post’s request for complaint record denied

The Shawnee Mission Post filed an open records request with the Kansas Attorney General’s office to obtain the open meetings complaint form Distler filled out under the other person’s name. But the AG’s office denied the request, citing an exception in state open records statutes that exempts records related to ongoing criminal investigations.

Still, some information about the complaint is known through the criminal affidavit.

The affidavit says Distler was reluctant to use her own name on the complaint because the “watchdog” whose name she used, as well as other individuals on the email thread she was complaining about, were part of a group that often bullied others.

She also said that when she tried to file the complaint initially, she got error messages and was unable to send it using “anonymous” in the form’s name field.

She said she began to have second thoughts and did not send the complaint. Instead, she left to do errands, leaving the filled-out form open on her computer. When she returned, she said she found it had been sent.

Distler said she later went to District Attorney Steve Howe’s office and the city counsel, she said, to tell them she had filed the complaint under someone else’s name.

The form that was sent contains a tag line that the information is true and correct, hence the perjury charge.

Distler was arrested Dec. 2 and released on $2,500 bond.