Chief Justice Says Senator Linking Pay Raises, Judicial Selection

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A state senator denies accusations from the state's Chief Justice that he is trying to strong-arm the judiciary into supporting a change in how appellate court judges are selected.

In a letter to fellow judges Tuesday, Hon. Lawton Nuss says Sen. Jeff King told a meeting of the executive board of the Kansas District Judge's Association, along with his special council Helen Pedigo, that if the group does not endorse a constitutional amendment on appellate court judicial selection, a pay increase for nonjudicial employees "could be imperiled" and passage of the Judiciary's budget "would become more difficult." (The quotes are from Nuss' letter.)

The Judiciary has requested a 2 percent under-market pay increase for nonjudicial employees.

"We regret that the Senator has raised this linkage - apparently to pressure judges to endorse a constitutional amendment on appellate judicial selection that he has been otherwise unable to secure among his own legislative colleagues - when there is no logical connection between the amendment and employee compensation," Nuss wrote. "I know that as fellow jurists you can easily understand we find this linkage distasteful - and unacceptable."

But King says Nuss' account of the meeting is untrue, pointing out Nuss wasn't physically present at the meeting.

"I'm, quite frankly, disappointed and appalled," King told 13 News. "For the Chief Justice to make accusations against another lawyer's integrity based on a meeting he wasn't at...was extremely unfortunate and concerning."

King says he never asked for the KDJA's endorsement of the judicial selection proposal and, when specifically asked by those present if support for the judiciary's budget hinged on the judge's supporting the amendment, he denied it.

King's office released an email from Judge Eric Yost of the 18th Judicial District, who was present at the meeting and supports King's account.

"At no time did (King) make any effort to link the budget to judicial selection, nor did he in any way make any sort of quid pro quo offer regarding the two. Nor did he in any way make any sort of threat, veiled or otherwise," Yost wrote.

However, King says the question over how to choose judges needs to be settled.

"The judicial selection debate has caused tension between the judicial branch and the legislative branch for many years," King said. "Getting a constitutional amendment to the voters and getting the question decided will ease that tension."

King said he has supported adequate funding of the Judiciary, including the under-market pay increase, and will continue to do so, despite the misunderstanding with Nuss. However, he did say he anticipates Nuss will publicly apologize.

Nuss issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon, standing by his letter.

The amendment would seek to give lawyers less influence over a nine-member nominating commission which would continue to screen applicants for vacancies on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, but then require Senate confirmation of the governor's appointments.

The Kansas Bar Association's Board of Governors voted Tuesday afternoon against supporting the proposal.

The full text of Nuss' letter is attached.

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