TOPEKA — Sedgwick County District Judge Anthony Powell and attorney Stephen Kerwick of Eastborough are among three nominees submitted to the governor Friday to fill an open seat on the state Court of Appeals.
The third nominee is Dennis Depew, a private-practice attorney from Neodesha.
From among those three, Gov. Sam Brownback will select a judge to replace the late Judge Richard D. Greene, who died Oct. 7 while serving as chief judge of the appellate court.
Powell has served as a district court judge since 2003. For eight years before that, he represented a Wichita district in the state House of Representatives.
Kerwick is a partner in the Wichita-based Foulston Siefken law firm. He is a past president of the Kansas Association of Defense Counsel.
Depew, a Neodesha school board member, is president of the Kansas Association of School Boards, which has battled Brownback over cuts to school funding. Depew is president-elect of the State Bar Association and will become president in June.
Absent from the list of nominees was Caleb Stegall, the governor’s chief counsel, who was one of nine candidates interviewed by the statewide nominating commission before it began private discussions about picking finalists.
Under the state’s current selection process, judges for the state appeals and supreme courts are nominated by a committee made up of nine members — five lawyers elected by the Bar Association membership and four non-lawyers appointed by the governor.
That system may be about to change with the rightward shift in the state Legislature following an August primary that demolished the moderate Republican presence in the state Senate.
Brownback wants to change state law to follow the federal model in which he and future governors would appoint Court of Appeals judges, subject to confirmation by the state Senate. The state House also has favored that method of selecting judges.
The Legislature and governor can change the method of selecting Court of Appeals judges by passing a law.
The process for selecting Supreme Court justices is spelled out in the Kansas Constitution, requiring two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate and approval in a statewide election for a change.
Conservatives in the Legislature and the administration and advocacy groups outside of government have long campaigned to change the way judges are selected, contending that a nominating panel with a majority of lawyers tilts the process toward selection of liberal judges.
Powell, however, was a very prominent conservative in the House and a stalwart of the anti-abortion movement.
During his interview, Powell said his experience as a legislator was invaluable because it taught him to make difficult decisions decisively in the public eye.
Commission member Kerry McQueen, an attorney from Liberal, said he received several telephone calls from Powell’s fellow trial court judges “taking me to the woodshed” after the commission passed over Powell previously.
And Powell said, “I don’t play politics on the bench. I rule how the law demands.”
Another vacancy on the 13-member court was created by Judge Christel Marquardt’s announced plans to retire in January.
The finalists for her position are Stevens County District Judge Kim Schroeder; Steven J. Obermeier, senior deputy district attorney in Johnson County; and Teresa Watson, a Topeka lawyer who has served as a research attorney for the state’s appellate courts.