TOPEKA — Caleb Stegall, Gov. Sam Brownback’s former chief legal counsel, was sworn in as the newest judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals, mixing humor and history to thank family and supporters for allowing him to follow his love of the law.
Stegall took the oath of office Friday before a large audience in the Supreme Court chambers with his wife, Ann, holding a Bible. He then donned the traditional black judge’s robe with the assistance of his five sons.
“It’s an overwhelming day for my family and me,” Stegall said. “I’m deeply grateful to God for these undeserving graces.”
He fills a new, 14th seat on the state’s second-highest court, a position created in previous legislative sessions but never filled because of tight state revenue. The total annual cost of the new judge’s office – which will include an assistant and two research attorneys – is expected to be $420,000.
Stegall’s appointment by the Republican governor received an unusual amount of attention, partly because of his position as Brownback’s chief lawyer.
It was also the first Court of Appeals appointment under a law that took effect in July that has the governor appoint the judges, subject to Senate confirmation. Previously, an attorney-led commission screened applicants and named three finalists, with no role for lawmakers after the governor’s appointment.
Stegall, a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law, began his career with the firm of Foulston Siefkin before serving as clerk for Deanell Tacha, chief judge of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. He later started a private practice in Perry and was elected Jefferson County attorney in 2009 before becoming Brownback’s chief counsel in 2011.
Jim Oliver, an attorney with Foulston Siefkin, introduced Stegall, praising his work ethic and diverse interests. Oliver described Stegall as a compassionate public servant and one who would be “firm, fair and even-handed” on the Court of Appeals.
“He made the firm better,” Oliver said. “He made me better.”