Court and legislators spar over Kansas judicial selection

A plan to change how Kansas fills vacancies on its two highest courts foundered Tuesday when the Kansas Bar Association’s board decided to oppose it.

Meanwhile, Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss accused Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, a key legislative backer of the proposal, of trying to exert undue pressure for the change. King said the allegation was unfounded and called for an apology.

In a letter Tuesday to trial court judges. Nuss said King had “suggested” to several judges in a meeting last week that the court system’s success on budget issues was tied to the judges endorsing the new judicial selection plan.

Nuss was not at the meeting, but his chief counsel was. The judge called King’s actions a “disturbing example” of how politics affects the judiciary and said linking the two issues is “distasteful — and unacceptable.”

King, an Independence Republican and attorney, released an email from Sedgwick County District Judge Eric Yost to fellow judges, saying the allegation is unfounded. Yost is a former senator.

King said: “I hope and I trust, and I firmly believe, knowing the chief justice, that he will see that the right thing to do is to make a full apology for the misstatements in the letter and for unjustly defaming the character of not only a legislator but a member of the Kansas bar.”

A spokesman for the judicial branch later said that Nuss “stands by the accuracy of his letter.”

The proposal backed by King would amend the Kansas Constitution to require Senate confirmation for the governor’s appointments to the Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals.

The Kansas Bar Association’s Board of Governors voted unanimously during a private teleconference Tuesday to oppose the measure, later focusing much of its criticism on how it would reorganize the nine-member, statewide nominating commission that screens applicants for appellate court vacancies.