By Joe Stumpe
For defense attorney Jonathan McConnell, one of his proudest moments was not due to his own accomplishment, but rather, that of a former client.
“In that moment, my life’s work felt completely validated,” he said.
McConnell, a young Wichita lawyer who has become well-known for his work vigorously defending clients with charges ranging from traffic violations to serious crimes, recently attended an event in Kansas City for the Midwest Innocence Project. It was there that a former client was recognized for organizing the event and surviving the painful experience of being wrongfully accused.
“I am so proud that he has not only moved on from his ordeal, but has used the experience as a catalyst to help others in similar situations,” said McConnell. “He plans to go to law school, and I will be honored to recommend him.”
McConnell was also recognized at the event for his aggressive defense of the client. Earlier last year, the young man’s family hired McConnell, who then utilized private investigators, medical experts and even an anonymous letter to form the defense that resulted in the dismissal of charges. McConnell estimates that private investigators took statements from 20 different witnesses in the nearly yearlong case.
“The moral of that story is leaving no stone unturned,” he said.
Of course, defense work is not for someone who’s afraid of a challenge, or even of offending some people.
“It’s easy to align yourself with someone when they’re doing well, and it’s easy to distance yourself when they’re not,” McConnell said. “But you can’t turn your back on someone when they’re in the depths of despair.”
McConnell said that attitude “was ingrained in me from when I was a kid” by his parents. Dr. William H. McConnell has been senior minister at Hillside Christian Church in Wichita since 1990. His mother, Vickie, was also a minister who died in 1997 after a battle with a rare form of cancer.
McConnell says he nearly followed his parents into the ministry, but was attracted to the law as another way of making a difference in people’s lives. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice from Wichita State University, then attended law school in Miami.
Back in Wichita, McConnell worked for then-Sedgwick County Prosecuting Attorney Nola Foulston and then for noted defense attorney Dan Monnat before opening his own firm almost three years ago with the intention of helping people when they need it most.
He’s since been joined by two other attorneys and three staff members.
McConnell is a Scottish Rite Mason and attorney for the Wichita Midian Shrine Temple.
That connection led to him establishing an office on the first floor of the landmark Scottish Rite Temple.
McConnell gave a sizable donation to the Kansas Masonic Foundation’s Building Kansas campaign, which funds cancer research. He’s also raised money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, American Diabetes Association and American Collegiate Society for Adapted Athletics.
McConnell describes his legal style as aggressive and “outside the box.”
“I feel like a lot of attorneys do stuff the same way because that’s the way it’s always been done before them,” he said. “Anything to bring the practice to a modern age, that’s what I try to do.”
Another way in which McConnell’s parents influenced him is in the “holistic approach” he takes to clients, sometimes suggesting counseling, therapy or other treatment for the underlying causes that may have gotten them into trouble.
“I’m not interested in repeat business. I want them to have a good life. And the best defense,” he added. “Let’s be honest, not everyone’s hands are completely clean. Others, they are. I don’t really care who the person is -- rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, saint or sinner, it makes no difference to me. I want to help people.”