Jim Carpenter’s primary task may sound strange for a member of a prosecutor’s office.
“I was brought in to help to keep people out of jail,” said Carpenter, a new senior assistant district attorney in the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office.
His role is key in the DA’s Office alternatives to incarceration programs, which involves taking a holistic approach to everyone who comes through the criminal justice system. Each case is considered individually to ensure that, when appropriate, defendants are held accountable but also receive services that meet their situation and needs.
“I’ve always wanted to help people who find themselves in bad situations,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter joined the DA’s Office in March after a long career as a solo family law practitioner in Wyandotte County, where his work included serving as a guardian ad litem for children in foster care, extensive probate work and representing patients facing involuntary commitment.
Before his solo career, he worked for Kansas Legal Services in Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties, where he handled cases that included some component of domestic violence. During that time he was certified in all areas of legal mediation. Although he has not maintained that certification, the training and skills have served him well.
At the DA’s office, he will focus on Behavioral Health Court, Drug Court, Restorative Justice and care-and-treatment cases. His background in family law and legal services has covered all these areas.
And although he is new to the DA, Carpenter is no stranger to Lawrence and Douglas County. Starting in 1994, he has been active in community issues – beginning with a sidewalk survey when he first moved into his house in the Barker neighborhood. Since then his volunteer work has included the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, the Lawrence Board of Zoning Appeals (2005-11) and the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission (2016-present).
District Attorney Suzanne Valdez praised Carpenter’s career and pointed out the benefits of his combined experience.
“Jim’s legal expertise, empathetic commitment to improving lives in his community and in-depth understanding of Douglas County issues give him a unique perspective,”Valdez said. “His background and connections will help our office reduce the criminal justice footprint. He ‘speaks the language’ of all these different groups.”
Carpenter is married to Jane Gibson, associate professor emerita of anthropology at the University of Kansas. They have two grown daughters and four grandchildren. He swims every morning with the Lawrence Master’s Swim Club and is trying to find time again for his woodworking hobby.
He is still getting his feet under him at the DA’s Office but is eager for the new challenges.
“I’m excited that this new job combines elements of all of my legal and volunteer experiences,” he said.