Thursday, December 18, 2014

Judges vie for position in district

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 8/22/2014

The 4th Judicial District Nominating Commission had its work cut out for it Friday.

The panel of legal professionals and lay persons from the judicial district’s four counties — Anderson, Coffey, Franklin, and Osage — spent Friday morning interviewing four seasoned attorneys who were vying for a vacant district judge position. The interviews took place in the Franklin County District Court building, 301 S. Main St., Ottawa — the site of the open judge position, which was created by the retirement of District Court Judge Thomas H. Sachse. Sachse, Ottawa, retired in May after 23 years of service as a district judge. He was appointed to the bench April 1, 1991, by then-Gov. Joan Finney.

The 4th Judicial District Nominating Commission had its work cut out for it Friday.

The panel of legal professionals and lay persons from the judicial district’s four counties — Anderson, Coffey, Franklin, and Osage — spent Friday morning interviewing four seasoned attorneys who were vying for a vacant district judge position. The interviews took place in the Franklin County District Court building, 301 S. Main St., Ottawa — the site of the open judge position, which was created by the retirement of District Court Judge Thomas H. Sachse. Sachse, Ottawa, retired in May after 23 years of service as a district judge. He was appointed to the bench April 1, 1991, by then-Gov. Joan Finney.

Candidate Sheila Marie Schultz, a Paola attorney and part-time municipal judge for the City of Paola and the City of Osawatomie, told the commission she admired Sachse’s uncanny ability to separate “the wheat from the chaff” and get right to the heart of the matter. Schultz has tried to emulate that trait in her work as a municipal judge, she said.

Schultz, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, also is a pro tem for Miami County’s code court. Her past experience includes working as a hearing officer with the Miami County District Court. She is in private practice with Winkler, Lee, Tetwiler & Domoney in Paola.

When asked by commission member Sara Caylor, Ottawa, how she would handle the ever-increasing case load in Franklin County — the largest of the four counties in the district — Schultz expressed confidence she could organize the docket in an efficient manner. The district judge would preside over criminal cases, divorce cases, probate cases and some other civil cases.

Citing his 15 years of experience as an attorney, Brandon Jones said he has prosecuted everything from Fish and Game violations to capital murder homicide cases and is intimately familiar with the workings of the courtroom where he has spent nearly every day of his career — with more than 60 jury trials and countless bench trials under his belt.

Jones, who currently serves as county attorney of Osage and Anderson counties, also has experience as county counselor with the Osage County Attorney’s Office, as special assistant attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas, assistant district attorney with the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, adjunct professor with Neosho County Community College, and assistant county attorney with the Franklin County Attorney’s Office. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law.

Jones expressed confidence in his ability to handle the bench’s case load in an efficient manner and said that his attributes of being patient and even-tempered in the courtroom would serve him well as a judge. He also said he is good at multi-tasking, is firm when he needs to be but fair and approachable and has a strong work ethic. Jones, who grew up in the 4th Judicial District and currently resides in Ottawa, said he thought he was well-respected throughout the judicial district. Jones, who has lived in Ottawa since 2005, also is the former president of the Ottawa school district’s Board of Education.

“This would be a dream job for me — something I’ve always wanted to do,” Jones said of the district judge position. “I think I would do an excellent job.”

Frederick Meier II, a private sector attorney in Emporia, who previously served as assistant county attorney and then deputy county attorney with the Franklin County Attorney’s Office, said he thought his experience as both a defense attorney and prosecutor would serve him well in the role of district judge. He cited his more than two decades of experience as an attorney.

The attorney’s past experience also includes working in private practice with Hackler, Londerholm, Corder, Martin and Hackler in Olathe, and as assistant county attorney with the Miami County Attorney’s Office. He is a graduate of Washburn University School of Law.

The fourth candidate, Douglas Witteman, talked about how his experience as the Coffey County attorney — both as a prosecutor and county counselor — has given him a good understanding of the 4th Judicial District and has provided him with a solid foundation in which to serve as a judge.

Witteman said he loves his job as Coffey County attorney, but would like to pursue a new challenge and finish out his career as a district judge.

His other past experience past experience includes working in private practice as a principle attorney for the law firm Patterson, Nelson, Nolla & Witteman, L.C., and as an associate attorney with Hinkle, Eberhart & Elkouri, L.L.C., both of Wichita. He is a graduate of Washburn University School of Law.

Kansas law requires the nominating commission to submit at least two names, but not more than three, to the governor, who will choose one to appoint, according to the release. A judge must be a resident of the district, be at least 30, have actively practiced law for at least five years, and be admitted to practice law in Kansas.

The 4th Judicial District Nominating Commission consists of Justice Eric Rosen as the nonvoting chair; and James R. Campbell, Burlington; Sara E. Caylor, Ottawa; Craig E. Cole, Garnett; Thomas B. DeBaun, Osage City; Forrest A. Lowry, Ottawa; Eugene E. Highberger, Westphalia; Janet C. Walsh, Lyndon; and Timothy A. Sipe, Waverly.

The candidates’ interviews were conducted in open session. After lunch, the commission planned to reconvene and discuss the candidates behind closed doors, citing the need for confidentiality as a personnel matter. Rosen said he thought the commission’s decision would be made public Monday.

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