TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Governor's pick for a seat on the Kansas Court of Appeals took aim at one of his detractors during his confirmation hearing Tuesday.
Caleb Stegall spent more than an hour answering questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. His nomination is the first under a process where the Governor makes the choice, subject to Senate confirmation, rather than a committee process.
Stegall's nomination came under fire because Sen. Sam Brownback opted to not publicly release the names of the applicants, as the nominating commission had in the past. Critics say Stegall's position as the Brownback's chief attorney put him at the head of the list.
Written testimony from Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, questioned Stegall's qualifications, pointed out he had never been a judge at any level. It also noted Stegall's writings and associations with conservative.
Stegall addressed Hensley's testimony in his opening statement to the committee, calling it misleading and a "smear campaign." He says Hensley took some of the writings out of context, for example, attributing a writer's descriptive phrase to Stegall. Stegall also pointed out a blog Hensley claimed showed Stegall supported secession was actually about organic farmers who wanted to use Stegall's office parking lot for a farmers market.
Hensley told 13 News he stood by his assertions, saying he attributed all of them. He also said he is concerned about the secrecy which surrounded Stegall's selection. He says people will never know if Stegall was, in fact, the best candidate because Brownback is preventing comparison by declining to release the names of the other applicants.
Stegall said it is not unprecedented for a person with no prior experience as a judge to be appointed to the Court of Appeals. He said he has a wide range of success at various levels, including as a judicial clerk, private attorney in both large city and rural practices, prosecutor and public service. He says that broad perspective would bring diversity to the court. He urged the committee to consider a stack of statements from colleagues supporting his nomination.
Committee members questioned Stegall about his prior associations, including public support of his nomination from the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.
Stegall said it is the job of an Appeals Court judge to say what the law is, not what it ought to be. He said every judge comes to the court with prior life experiences, but a judge has an obligation to set those biases aside.
"We don't nominate robots to the bench. We nominate human beings," Stegall said.
Stegall also spent time in distinguishing his role as an attorney, advocating for clients. He declined to state his positions on issues such as gun control, saying it would be inappropriate as a nominee. Asked about his association with former Attorney General Phill Kline, Stegall said he was contacted about represening Kline during a complaint over Kline's investigation of Planned Parenthood. He said he did not have an association with Kline before that and has not had one since.
The committee approved Stegall's nomination. A full Senate vote is expected Wednesday.