So you want to be a judge in Kansas?
Here's advice on how to get there
—by Janis McMillen
Well, in Kansas it takes more than just following the yellow brick road - but there is a road map.
First, you need to know the “rules of the road” in your particular district. If you are in Emporia, Salina, Manhattan, Lawrence, Topeka or Johnson County, or any of 11 other Kansas judicial districts, judges are appointed by the Governor from among three lawyers selected by a Nominating Commission. If you live in Wichita or Great Bend, or any of 12 other judicial districts, judicial candidates hit the campaign trail, go door-to-door, raise money and ask the voters to support them in a November general election.
Seventeen of the 31 Kansas judicial districts, about 30 years ago, voted to use the “merit selection” system to provide judges in their respective districts. The remaining districts voted to continue electing their judges. Even earlier than this, at the end of the 1950s, voters across the state passed a constitutional amendment approving the merit selection system for Appeals Court judges and Supreme Court justices.
Sounds simple, but not so fast…..there’s a little more to it - you know - “the devil’s in the details” story. So here are the details.
The Merit selection process of selecting judges involves both attorneys and non-attorneys functioning as a Nominating Commission. This Commission goes to work when there is a vacancy in a district court or on one of the appellate courts (Appeals or Supreme). It receives applications from lawyers, reviews their credentials, conducts rigorous and thorough interviews with the wide variety of references provided by the lawyer-candidate and then interviews the candidates. The Commission votes to select the names of two or three of the most qualified candidates to be submitted to the Governor. The Governor, following a further extensive review, makes the final appointment to the bench from the names submitted.
What is a Nominating Commission? At the judicial district level, the Nominating Commission is comprised of one non-lawyer appointed by each member of the Board of County Commissioners for that district. An equal number of lawyers are elected by their peers from among lawyers licensed in Kansas and practicing in the respective district. A Supreme Court Justice is assigned to each judicial district to provide oversight.
The Supreme Court Nominating Commission is made up of four non-attorneys appointed by the Governor, one from each Congressional district. Four lawyers, one from each Congressional district, are elected by their peers in their respective Congressional district. A fifth lawyer is elected at-large to serve as Chair of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Members of the district and Supreme Court nominating commissions serve 4-year terms.
For the first time, in 2008, a Judicial Performance evaluation survey was implemented for all Kansas judges and justices who were up for partisan election or retention election. The survey was completed by a wide variety of individuals who come in contact with the court, including attorneys, law enforcement personnel, court personnel, CASA volunteers, litigants and jurors. The survey results for those up for retention election were posted on the Kansas Court website for the public’s information. Judges running for election were each provided his or her survey results but these results were not made available to the general public.
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Last revised: Oct. 1, 2009, 4:45 AM, CDT
League of Women Voters of Kansas, Kansas. All rights reserved.