Monday, September 01, 2014

Group challenges Brownback court pick

By The Herald Staff | 8/23/2013

TOPEKA — Is Gov. Sam Brownback’s selection for the Kansas Court of Appeals the most qualified?

The League of Women Voters of Kansas is challenging the process used to pick Brownback’s chief counsel, Caleb Stegall, to fill the 14th seat on the court. The group has filed requests under the Kansas Open Records Act seeking documents related to the decision to nominate Stegall for the position.

TOPEKA — Is Gov. Sam Brownback’s selection for the Kansas Court of Appeals the most qualified?

The League of Women Voters of Kansas is challenging the process used to pick Brownback’s chief counsel, Caleb Stegall, to fill the 14th seat on the court. The group has filed requests under the Kansas Open Records Act seeking documents related to the decision to nominate Stegall for the position.

“Gov. Brownback claims that Mr. Stegall is the most qualified choice for the Court of Appeals among 13 applicants who were interviewed,” Dolores Furtado, League of Women Voters state president, said. “As President Ronald Reagan once said, ‘trust, but verify.’ Taxpayers have a right to know what public officials and their agents are doing on their behalf. If these meetings actually happened, there should be no problem releasing the calendars as required under the law.”

In nominating Stegall, Brownback’s office said 18 people had filled out at least one portion of the application for the vacancy on the Court of Appeals, but only 13 were interviewed by staff. As of Friday, Brownback had refused to release the names of the 13 applicants and refused to say which staff members interviewed them.

In 2012, Stegall applied twice for openings on the Court of Appeals under the merit selection process and was not selected. In 2013, he testified in the Kansas Legislature in favor of eliminating merit selection and moving to the current, political model for selecting judges, according to the League of Women Voters.

Stegall’s nomination is the first done through the new “federal process” approved by the Kansas Legislature earlier this year and signed into law by Brownback July 1. The governor was required to make his appointment by Aug. 29, and the Legislature could consider approving the pick during the Sept. 3-5 special session called by Brownback to address the state’s “Hard 50” sentencing law.

“For nearly 40 years, the League of Women Voters of Kansas has supported the merit selection process for choosing Supreme Court justices and Appeals Court judges,” Furtado said. “This process has always been open, transparent and effective. Applicants’ names have been published, interviews with the candidates have been open to the public, and the names of the three finalists to be submitted for the Governor’s final selection have also been made known.”

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