KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CN) – The former mayor of Leavenworth claims the City Commission booted her from office unconstitutionally because she wrote a letter to a judge, as a private citizen, seeking a reduced sentence for a longtime family friend who had been convicted of drug charges. “I think if she would have written requesting them to lock him up and throw away the key, there would be no problem,” Shay Baker’s attorney said.
Baker was elected to the City Commission, which chose her to serve as mayor from April 14, 2009 to April 13, 2010.
On Sept. 9, 2009, Baker wrote a letter to a federal judge on behalf of a family friend who was facing a 30-year sentence on drug charges.
Baker claims the letter, which requested a sentence of 15 years, was written in her individual capacity, though she signed the letter in a way indicating she was Leavenworth’s mayor.
The Leavenworth Times newspaper published a copy of the letter on Sept. 15.
Two days later, amid public outcry, the City Commission voted 4-1 to remove Baker as mayor, according to her federal complaint.
Baker sued the City of Leavenworth and the four city commissioners who voted to remove her from office.
Baker’s attorney, Stephen Bonney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Leavenworth city attorney acknowledged that the city had no rules regulating the personal actions of elected officials.
“There is a real conundrum, in trying to adopt rules restricting a legislator’s right to speak,” Bonney said in an interview on Thursday. “It can get really dicey.”
Bonney said it was clear that Baker’s removal was due to the letter, not to any other factors.
“She wrote asking for a lesser sentence for a person convicted of a federal drug offense,” Bonney said. “I think that’s the reason. I think if she would have written requesting them to lock him up and throw away the key, there would be no problem.”
Baker seeks damages for constitutional violations of free speech and due process. She also wants to be reinstated as mayor, and wants the city prohibited from removing city commissioners or the mayor for exercise of free speech.