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Legislators open hearing on Kan. judicial changes

Topeka Capital-Journal
John Milburn
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Several law professors said Wednesday they would favor a different system for appointing judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a proposed change in the Kansas Constitution that would allow the governor to appoint appellate judges, with confirmation by the Senate. Voters would have to approve the constitutional change.

Under the current system, the governor chooses appellate judges from slates of three finalists nominated by a special commission. The commission is made up of four non-lawyers appointed by the governor and five lawyers who belong to the Kansas Bar Association.

University of Kansas law professor Stephen Ware said the current process shuts voters out from decisions on appointments to the state's highest courts. Ware, who testified on his own behalf, said he has conducted research on judicial selection for nearly 20 years and found significant flaws in the Kansas system.

"This research shows that the Kansas Supreme Court selection process is undemocratic, extreme and secretive," Ware said.

He said the commission was not accountable to voters, limited the pool of its members to about 10,000 people and conducted its business in secrecy with no explanation of the specific qualifications of the nominees presented to the governor.

"Kansas is the only state that allows its bar to select a majority of its Supreme Court nominating commission. None of the other 49 states give the bar so much power," Ware said.

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