This U.S. Attorney Resigned Amid an Ethics Investigation. Now He Oversees Judges’ Ethics. 

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Soon after he was sworn in, U.S. attorney Duane “Dak” Kees started an improper relationship with a subordinate, documents released by the Justice Department show. Just three years after he stepped down from that job amid an investigation, Kees has landed another government position: a seat on a state commission overseeing the ethics of Arkansas judges, from the state Supreme Court down to local magistrates.  

A new Justice Department report released Tuesday sheds light on Kees’ behavior as the top federal prosecutor serving the Western District of Arkansas. At the time, Kees worried that the revelation of his relationship “could cost him his position as U.S. Attorney.” He even tried to block the firing of another employee who had committed “additional acts of misconduct” to keep his own misconduct out of the spotlight.

The relationship lasted approximately seven months, the documents show, and began with exchanging flirtatious stories about sexual exploits. This gradually progressed to sexual contact. Kees and his coworker dispute who initiated. The Justice Department redacted the subordinate’s identity from the report. 

At one point, according to the subordinate, when Kees asked for a kiss in an elevator and she declined, he said, “You do know I’m in charge of your promotions, right?” Kees did not recall making the comment, the report notes. Their relationship ended soon after this interaction, according to the documents. 

“She said that she knew Kees was going to call her into his office for a kiss when she heard him lowering his metal window blinds and that the sound of the metal blinds lowering filled her with anxiety,” the report reads. 

Kees served as U.S. Attorney from January 2018 through his resignation on January 2020, shortly after being interviewed by misconduct investigators. Former president Donald Trump appointed Kees to lead the U.S. Attorney’s office in Fort Smith, despite his lack of experience with the Justice Department, according to the report. The Intercept was unable to reach Kees.

Coverage of Kees’s resignation did not mention the misconduct investigation, indicating only that he was leaving federal service to serve as a top lawyer at Tyson Foods. 

Even after the relationship ended, it factored into how Kees ran the office, according to the report, including a disciplinary decision over an employee with “numerous prior instances of misconduct.” The report does specify the exact nature of the employee’s misconduct. 

“Kees said that he advocated for a 2-week suspension instead of a termination of [redacted] because he was concerned that [redacted] would ‘leverage’ Kees’s prior relationship,” the report reads. In meetings to discuss the disciplinary matters, two employees “alluded to his past relationship,” which Kees took as a threat to out his own bad behavior. 

“Kees placed his desire for his relationship with [the subordinate] to remain secret over the best interest of the USAO,” the report summarizes. 

The Justice Department inspector general concluded its investigation in November 2021 and issued an anonymized summary of the findings in January 2022. 

In June 2023, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin appointed Kees to the nine-member Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, which oversees all of the state’s approximately 400 judges for “misconduct both on and off the bench.” His appointment lasts until 2029. 

“Dak Kees brings an extraordinary record of service and impressive credentials to the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission,” Griffin said in a press release at the time, noting Kees’ recent service as U.S. Attorney. “Dak is an ideal addition to the Commission, and I appreciate his willingness to serve.”

The Justice Department’s misconduct findings against Kees do not have immediate ramifications for his appointment to the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission. The attorney general’s office and commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

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