Chief Justice Nuss recuses himself from dispute over chief judge appointments

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The head of the state Supreme Court will not participate when his Court hears the case regarding the appointment of Chief Judges in Kansas.

On Monday, the Justices released their decision on the state's motion for all of the Justices to recuse themselves in favor of seven or 14 judges from the state's Appeals Court. The Court ruled they were not required to disqualify themselves. None of the other six Justices chose to step aside.

Chief Justice Lawton Nuss agreed with Court's unanimous decision, but decided he should recuse himself because, as he wrote, he "clearly engaged in more direct and direct public communication on the legislation at issue than any of my colleagues."

Nuss cited testimony before the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee as well as an op-ed he wrote in several newspapers as examples of his public communication. He also mentioned he approved the general counsel's proposed testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"My level of involvement in this process is not surprising, given my particular position," he added.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued this statement in response to the Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice’s decision to recuse himself from Solomon v. Kansas and the decision of the other Justices to remain on the case:

“The State appreciates the prudent decision of the Chief Justice to step aside from judging the validity of a statute he had repeatedly criticized in public statements. This action is not all the State had recommended to ensure public confidence in these proceedings. However, taken together with the new assurances of four other Justices that they played no role in most of those public statements, and the reminder from Justice Stegall that he had not yet been appointed to the Supreme Court when those statements were made, today’s order speaks to the importance of a fair and impartial hearing.

”In September, I expressed my belief that neither the Legislature nor the Judiciary intends or wants increasingly strident conflict, nor would that serve Kansans well, and I still believe that to be so. We now have taken steps to prevent any cutoff of judicial funding regardless of the outcome in this case, and to address any perception that the Court’s public statements would taint its judgment.

He went on to say, “I have appreciated the restraint shown by all involved. Our attorneys look forward to presenting the State’s defense of the statute before the Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday.”

The law in question says judges in each judicial district pick their chief judges, taking that power from the Supreme Court. District Judge Larry Solomon of Kingman County challenged the statute. He is chief judge in the 31st District.

In September, Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks on Wednesday ruled unconstitutional a law changing how chief judges for the trial courts in the state's 31 judicial districts. Hendricks concluded that the law interferes with the Kansas Supreme Court's powerto oversee the judiciary.

Lawmakers earlier this year tied the judiciary's entire budget to preserving the policy, putting the court's funding in question following the decision.

The day after Hendricks' verdict came down, Atty. Gen. Derek Schmidt (R-KS) filed a formal request for the court to delay its decision to avoid this result."

"It is critical to keep the state judiciary operating,” he added.

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