Gavel Grab

In KS Governor’s Race, Opposing Views on Judicial Selection

Kansas-Flag-2As Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and Democrat Paul Davis square off in the Kansas race for governor, an important issue that divides them is the best way of choosing state Supreme Court justices.

A KCUR report provides an in-depth look at the issue. Brownback has supported efforts to scrap a judicial nominating commission that vets candidates for the high court, while Davis has resisted such efforts. And Brownback recently named his former counsel, Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall, to the high court, in an action that was questioned by some advocates.

A vetting commission had failed to include Stegall’s name among candidates who applied in 2012 for a seat on the Court of Appeals, but after the legislature eliminated the vetting commission, he was named to that court by Brownback. “The entire process was essentially changed just to get Justice Stegall through the system,” said Ryan Wright of Kansans for Fair Courts. This year, Read more

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Senate Ballot Dispute to Come Before Kansas High Court

0In a politically charged and nationally watched dispute, the Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Tuesday in an effort to decide whether Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Chad Taylor may remove his name from the November ballot.

Taylor’s recent attempted withdrawal from the race with Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and Independent Greg Orman has widely been viewed as changing the dynamics of the contest, and possibly in favor of Orman. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, however, has contended that Taylor did not meet the legal requirements for withdrawal in the letter he submitted, because he did not declare he would be incapable of serving if voters elected him. Read more

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Judicial Selection System That Elevated Stegall ‘Worked’ — or Did It?

Kansas-Flag-2Editorial opinion in Kansas reacting to Gov. Sam Brownback’s appointment of his former counsel, Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall, to the state Supreme Court continues to diverge (see Gavel Grab).

A Wichita Eagle editorial was headlined, “Judicial selection system worked.” Judge Stegall was tapped for the high court after a judicial nominating commission screened applicants and recommended three finalists to the governor. The editorial also noted Brownback’s earlier criticism of this merit-based selection system and urged him to back off:

“[I]n the wake of Stegall’s selection Brownback should at least call off the legislative dogs who’d like to further underfund and undermine the high court and to abolish the nominating commission entirely.” Read more

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Columnist: ‘Quit Whining’ Over Brownback Judicial Pick

Critics unhappy with Gov. Sam Brownback’s appointment of his former counsel, Judge Caleb Stegall, to the Kansas Supreme Court have a right to complain, but they need to understand that “[E]lections have consequences,” columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah writes in a Kansas City Star essay.

People who don’t like Brownback’s judicial appointments have the right to unseat the governor, Abouhalkah notes. When Court of Appeals Judge Stegall was chosen by Brownback for the state’s highest court, one of the most outspoken critics of the appointment was House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who is running against Brownback this fall. Read more

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Appointment to Kansas Court of Former Aide Sparks Criticism

Gov. Brownback

Gov. Brownback

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s pick of former chief counsel Caleb Stegall for a state Supreme Court opening (see Gavel Grab) met with criticism in some quarters. Judge Stegall has served on the Kansas Court of Appeals since January.

“By skipping over two highly qualified nominees and selecting someone with so little experience, Governor Brownback has once again shown that rewarding a political ally is far more important than doing what’s best for the people of Kansas,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

“Once again, Sam Brownback put his own political agenda before the best interests of Kansans,” said House Minority Leader  Paul Davis. “Instead of choosing a judge with more than 20 years on the bench, he chose his  Read more

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Brownback Names Former Counsel to Kansas Supreme Court

Judge Stegall

Judge Stegall

Gov. Sam Brownback made his first appointment to the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday, choosing Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall, who had served as Brownback’s chief counsel before becoming a judge in January.

Brownback made his selection in choosing among three finalists recommended by a nominating commission. He previously had said that Judge Stegall had no inside track for the job. Judge Stegall’s elevation also means the governor will have a vacancy to fill on the Court of Appeals.

The other two finalists were Court of Appeals Judge Karen Arnold-Burger, who sat on that court since 2011, and Judge Merlin Wheeler, chief judge of the 5th Judicial District of Lyon and Chase counties, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.  Read more

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Kansas Governor: No Inside Track to Court for His Ex-Aide

There will be no personal favorites when he chooses his first nominee to the Kansas Supreme Court, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said.

One of three finalists recommended by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission is Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall (see Gavel Grab), who had served as chief counsel to Brownback before the governor appointed him to the Superior Court last year.

The qualities that he will look for, Brownback said, are “Competency. Judicial temperament. Good, solid intellect. Experience. And somebody who would make a good long-term judge.” He made the remarks to reporters, according to the Wichita Eagle.

State Rep. Jim Ward, an attorney and a Democrat, told the newspaper he believed Judge Stegall will be Brownback’s pick for the state’s highest court, and the appointment would in turn give Brownback another appointment to the state Court of Appeals.

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Panel Recommends Three Finalists for Kansas High Court

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission, having completed interviews in public of 13 applicants, recommended three finalists for an opening on the Kansas Supreme Court to Gov. Sam Brownback.

The recommended candidates included Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall, who had previously served as counsel to Brownback and whose nomination to the appeals court last year proved controversial; Court of Appeals Judge Karen Arnold-Burger and state District Judge Merlin Wheeler, according to the Associated Press. Read more

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Timeliness of Kansas High Court Questioned by Some Applicants

Kansas_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005The Supreme Court Nominating Commission began interviewing applicants for a high court vacancy in public on Monday, at a time the court continued to draw attention over its recent voiding of death sentences given two brothers.

A Topeka Capital-Journal article said some of the applicants, including Court of Appeals Chief Judge Thomas Malone, voiced criticism of the state Supreme Court over the time it took to decide the cases of Jonathan and Reginald Carr (see Gavel Grab). The case had been pending before the Supreme Court for 10 years, the article said.

It was the first time the interviews of high court applicants were held in public. The screening commission will recommend finalists to Gov. Sam Brownback, who will make his first appointment to the court. Read more

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Another Push Ahead to Change Kansas Court Selection Method?

KS-Supreme-Court-logo200Legislators interested in changing the way Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected seized on a court ruling that overturned death penalty sentences handed two brothers in a notorious quadruple killing (see Gavel Grab).

The ruling “will likely fuel another push by conservative Republicans to give the governor and legislators more say in how the justices are chosen,” the Associated Press reported.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Republican, said that when legislators return to work in January, judicial selection will “absolutely” be a topic given the court rulings last week. He said the rulings were not surprising.

“There will always be cries for the heads of judges when they make difficult and unpopular rulings,” said Rep. John Carmichael, a Democrat.  ”It’s an imperative that we have independent courts.” Read more

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