Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Thursday that he's considering an appeal of a federal court order requiring Kansas to cover $389,000 worth of attorneys' fees and expenses for parties in a lawsuit over political redistricting.
The lawsuit stemmed from a bitter dispute in the Legislature last year over how to redraw the state's political boundaries to ensure equal representation. Lawmakers failed to pass any plan for revising congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts, and the panel of three federal judges hearing the lawsuit redrew the lines themselves.
Kobach was a defendant in the lawsuit because he is the state's chief elections officer, and the litigation sought to prevent him from supervising voting with the old districts in place. He was sued by a Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe, but the judges allowed 26 other people, including key figures in the legislative impasse, to join her in participating in the case against Kobach.
The secretary of state, also a Republican, had objected to allowing so many people to intervene and argued that it could lead to the state being forced to cover big legal bills. The three judges ruled Tuesday that 15 people were entitled to have a least part of their attorneys' fees and expenses covered by the state.
“This is ridiculous, that these attorneys are being rewarded for piling on this this lawsuit,” Kobach said during an interview with The Associated Press. “This never should have happened.”
Kobach said his office is consulting with Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office about a possible appeal. Schmidt spokesman Don Brown did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
The secretary of state, a former law professor, said he's researching whether a review of the panel's order would be limited on appeal and whether an appeal would be filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver or directly with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The panel was led by Judge Kathryn Vratil, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Kansas and included Senior U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum and Chief Judge Mary Beck Briscoe of the 10th Circuit court.
The panel's decision was defended by state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, who intervened in the lawsuit with former state Rep. Bill Roy Jr. of Lenexa. The panel said they were entitled to have about $46,000 for attorneys' fees and expenses covered by the state. They had sought an award of more than $101,000.
The dispute over redistricting was especially bitter among majority Republicans in the Legislature, as conservatives and moderates battled over lines that could hurt or help them in last year's elections.
Davis said Democrats had to get involved in the case to protect their interests, noting that both Kobach and Essex are Republicans. Also, Davis, himself an attorney, said the federal judges have wide discretion in settling such issues and predicted there's a “zero percent” chance the ruling will be overturned.
“Kris Kobach has been around the court system, and he should know better,” Davis said during an interview.
U.S. District Court for Kansas: https://ecf.ksd.uscourts.gov/
Kansas Legislature's redistricting site: http://redistricting.ks.gov
Kansas secretary of state: http://www.kssos.org