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District Court Judge Sues Kansas Over Law That Weakens Courts

Kansas District Court Judge Larry T. Solomon filed suit against the state of Kansas today over a law that undermines the Kansas Supreme Court’s authority to administer to district courts and violates Kansas’s constitution.

February 18, 2015

For Imme­di­ate Release: Febru­ary 18, 2015

Contact: Seth Hoy, seth.hoy@nyu.edu, 646–292–8369

Topeka, Kansas – Today, the Chief Judge for the Thir­ti­eth Judi­cial District in Kansas Larry T. Solomon filed suit against the state of Kansas, arguing that a recent law which strips the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to admin­is­ter to district courts is uncon­sti­tu­tional and viol­ates separ­a­tion of powers doctrine.

The law, signed by Governor Sam Brown­back last spring after the state supreme court ruled against the state in a public educa­tion fund­ing case, removes the Kansas Supreme Court’s admin­is­trat­ive author­ity over local court budgets and the selec­tion of local chief judges.

Judge Solomon filed a declar­at­ory judg­ment action today asking the Shawnee County District Court to strike down the law. Judge Solomon is repres­en­ted by the Bren­nan Center for Justice, Kaye Scholer LLP, and Irigoneg­aray & Asso­ci­ates.

“Our courts are import­ant,” said former Kansas Governor John W. Carlin. “Laws designed to weaken the judi­ciary are bad for every­one. Fair-minded Kansans across the polit­ical spec­trum should stand up for an inde­pend­ent judi­ciary and against partisan assaults on the Kansas Supreme Court’s consti­tu­tional author­ity.”

“Kansas’s unified court system, while not perfect, helps district court judges perform their consti­tu­tional respons­ib­il­it­ies more effi­ciently,” said retired Chief Judge for the Twenty Eighth Judi­cial District in Kansas, Jerome P. Hellmer. “If left to stand, this law will frag­ment that system, slow case times, and delay the admin­is­tra­tion of justice. Kansans deserve timely justice, not a governor and legis­lature who value polit­ical games­man­ship over the rule of law.”

“This law viol­ates the Kansas consti­tu­tion,” said Matthew Menen­dez, Coun­sel at the Bren­nan Center for Justice. “Over forty years ago, Kansas voters amended their state consti­tu­tion to unify their courts under the Kansas Supreme Court’s author­ity. This law flies in the face of that amend­ment and could delay justice for all Kansans.”

“Not only is this law a clear attempt to punish the high court for an unpop­u­lar decision, it also stands in viol­a­tion of the separ­a­tion of powers doctrine,” said Ryan Wright, Exec­ut­ive Director of Kansans for Fair Courts. “Judges should be free of polit­ical pres­sures and decide cases impar­tially based on the facts and the law. They should not have to worry that their decisions could be used against them for polit­ical gain.”

Read the peti­tion here.

Read the case page here.

Back­ground:

Last year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Kansas’s educa­tion fund­ing system was uncon­sti­tu­tional and ordered the legis­lature to fix fund­ing gaps. During the lawsuit, the state argued that the court lacked author­ity to decide the matter because it was a polit­ical issue. Shortly after that ruling, the state legis­lature passed and Kansas Governor Sam Brown­back signed an appro­pri­ations bill (HB 2338) that weakened the Kansas Supreme Court admin­is­trat­ive author­ity over local courts.

Many saw the move as retali­at­ory. Now, Judge Larry T. Solomon is asking the courts to strike down the new law which stands in clear viol­a­tion of Kansas’s consti­tu­tion and the separ­a­tions of powers doctrine.

Kansans voted to unify the state’s court system to remedy glitches and incon­sist­en­cies in court processes. Voters passed an amend­ment to Kansas’s consti­tu­tion in 1972 that expli­citly gave the Kansas Supreme Court “general admin­is­trat­ive author­ity over all courts in the state,” includ­ing district courts. Kansas’s new law viol­ates that amend­ment, remov­ing the author­ity to select chief judges from the Kansas Supreme Court and giving it to district courts.

For more inform­a­tion or to sched­ule an inter­view, contact Seth Hoy, seth.hoy@nyu.edu or 646–292–8369