AP: Kansas chief justice sends message to state legislators

2/1/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — The chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court is asking legislators to spend more money to improve the operations of the court system and allow more flexibility in assigning district judges.

TOPEKA (AP) — The chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court is asking legislators to spend more money to improve the operations of the court system and allow more flexibility in assigning district judges.

Chief Justice Lawton Nuss submitted his annual State of the Judiciary message Thursday in writing.

The chief justice has traditionally delivered the address in a speech to the Legislature. But House Speaker Ray Merrick blocked the speech this year, saying lawmakers' time could be better spent on other things.

Nuss focused his remarks on efforts in recent years to modernize the court system, including instituting electronic case management. He said more work remained, but that a seamless system statewide linking all district court offices would be beneficial. Many of his recommendations were developed by a commission that was appointed to look at the entire court system and caseloads.

"If implemented, many of the blue-ribbon commission recommendations ... could indeed make the judicial branch more efficient and make the most of the hard-earned money of Kansas taxpayers," Nuss wrote.

The chief justice also said a law requiring one district court judge assigned to each of the state's 105 counties tied up resources that could be utilized in jurisdictions that see higher volumes of cases, such as urban areas of Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City. Failure to make the change would necessitate the hiring of 22 more judges statewide to meet caseload demands and not require the courts to continually seek additional resources from legislators, he said.

"Removal (of the law) will allow the court to apply sound principles of business management — to run the judicial branch of government more efficiently and effectively, and better meet the needs of Kansas citizens," Nuss said.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, who also is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he applauded the court's efforts to modernize its case management system, but said there were other proposals from the blue-ribbon panel on funding that could yield additional revenues to meet the system's needs.

"If we get the case management system statewide we wouldn't need to abolish the one judge per county requirement," said King, an Independence Republican.

Nuss didn't refer to the change in delivery in his remarks and he also steered clear of the ongoing legislative debate over the selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices and members of the Court of Appeals. The Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment on Wednesday that would ask voters to give the governor the power to make judicial selections on his own, subject to Senate confirmation.

Currently, a nominating commission sends the governor three names to that have been selected from a pool of candidates. The governor picks the new judge and there is no Senate oversight.

A similar proposal is before the House Judiciary Committee.

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