Prosecutor takes Barton classes to enhance workplace knowledge

Kevin Salzman poses for a photo on Barton Community College’s Campus.

December 6, 2016
Story and photo by Micah Oelze

As a lifelong learner, Kevin Salzman, newly elected county attorney for Ness and Ford counties, has history with education. Starting out as a Biblical Studies major in his undergraduate years. Then he attended law school. Most recently he has taken a more unconventional approach to his education and he is a proud Barton Community College student.

“I hope that this encourages not only an attorney but maybe someone who is in their field and just wants to learn something else to give Barton a chance and try out a course and see how much they can learn about something that impacts their job that they may not be well versed in,” Salzman said.

Salzman didn’t start as a lawyer, but knew he wanted to help people in his vocation.

“In my undergraduate studies, I was studying to be a preacher,” he said. “But what bothered me was that I didn’t feel there was a good outlet in the ministry to help people with immediate needs that had some consequence to them.”

Salzman began to search for other alternatives, which led him to law. He decided to give the entrance exam a shot. If he did well Salzman would peruse law and if not, he would continue the search for his career. Upon receiving his exam scores, he saw he did well and went through with his plan to study law.

“All through law school, that public service aspect is what really drew me to the law,” he said. “The ability to influence not only a person’s life but a community’s life.”

Since becoming an attorney, Salzman learned the importance of advancing his education beyond what one would study in law school.

“In law school, you learn a lot of legal theory, elements of a crime, how to present a case in court, how to get evidence in, question a witness – that sort of thing,” he said.

Salzman said more knowledge is needed to perform his job to the highest standard.

“Prosecution, in particular, hits on so many other fields of study that they just don’t teach you,” Salzman said. “When you have somebody who is defrauding a business, who’s their bookkeeper perhaps and giving themselves a little bit of an extra bonus, suddenly you are involving accounting. When you are trying somebody for driving under the influence you have biology and chemistry that come in with the breath tests and blood tests that are performed.”

As a proponent of lifelong learning, Salzman is always seeking new information.

“One of the big motivations for me for taking additional studies here and there is to gain a greater appreciation of what the other parts of the criminal justice system are going through,” he said.

One of the first classes he took at Barton was Introduction to Corrections. While he does not plan to work in that field he wanted to gain a greater understanding of what happens with a case after he is done with his part.

“The way in which it was taught and the materials the instructor used opened my mind a lot into what goes into the correction process and what happens to a case after I sentenced the person and the court services officer takes over,” Salzman said. “And I appreciate the study and research that has gone into what works for offender reformation and what doesn’t.”

The experience opened his eyes and helped him have a new understanding of the corrections world. He began to wonder what other factors he could learn about that play into his job. Soon a factor came to light while he was at a statewide conference for district attorneys. In that conference, the topic of how the Innocence Project, a non-profit that fights for the wrongfully convicted, has great media relations and prosecutors generally don’t.

“I thought, ‘I had such a great experience with the corrections class, why not explore some of those other areas?’ Barton made it convenient because at the time I was in Larned so the campus was close,” he said. “They offered a lot of online options that I could study on my own. Instructors were knowledgeable. They knew their subject matter and were very accessible.”

Salzman decided to pick up a media studies class at Barton. While he had to drop the course due to the primary election, Salzman left with greater knowledge and appreciation for the media. He explained how prosecutors can feel handicapped in the way they communicate with their communities.

“There are ethical rules that constrain us in what we can communicate to the public and when we can,” he said. “I wanted to learn through these media classes how to better communicate what is going on in my office, what my office will be doing and the direction and policies that we are going to pursue.”

Salzman hopes this way the public understands that they work for the community.

“We work for the people of our community and I want them to feel that way,” Salzman said. “I believe gaining a better understanding of media relations, how to prepare press releases from our office and knowing what journalists go through when they are preparing a story would help me better accomplish that.”

Salzman came away with a better understanding of what it means to write a news story. The complexity of the task is something he did not fully grasp prior to taking the class.

“Creating a compelling media narrative, and not just a story but a story line is much more detailed and intricate than I think people realize,” Salzman said. “Media is a business as well. You have to attract and obtain readers. You have to attract and obtain viewers. If you don’t do that all the facts in the world won’t change the fact that you are going out of business.”

“I have gained an appreciation for how detailed, and how much planning goes into not only creating, following, and investigating a story but also making it compelling to make readers and viewers want to care about it and keep coming back for updates.”

Salzman hopes to use his newfound knowledge to have a better relationship between his office and the media. This was one of the main reasons he took the course. Salzman sees the adverse media relations some prosecutors have as something to be avoided.

“I don’t feel that’s good. Whenever government withdraws from public scrutiny, bad things happen,” Salzman said. “People start assuming things, those assumptions lead to widespread distrust. I don’t want that in any office I am running or am affiliated with.”

Salzman is looking to have the opposite effect with his office. He knows that through good press relations his office’s trust will improve not just with the reporters, but more importantly with the community.

Once Salzman gets settled and operating properly, which is his first priority, he looks to not only further his own education but to encourage his assistants to do so as well.

“I would not only for myself look for other opportunities to gain a better understanding of various areas that relate to the criminal justice system in what we do, but certainly also encourage my assistants who exhibit a desire or interest in certain areas to maybe explore that through an online course,” he said. “When we understand more about what we are dealing with, not just the law but the other fields that relate to it, we are able to achieve a better result.”

  Kevin Salzman poses for a photo on Barton Community College’s Campus.