The Senate approved Gov. Sam Brownback’s lawyer for the 14th seat on the Kansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday afternoon.
Caleb Stegall had previously been considered but not picked for other judicial seats. He was one of 19 nominees the Senate approved for various posts from Brownback.
Stegall is the first judicial nominee since the Legislature passed a law earlier this year to allow the governor to appoint judges subject to Senate confirmation. Previously, a committee of lawyers chosen by the state bar association and non-lawyers selected by the governor would narrow the list to three, and the governor made the final appointment.
“To me there was an inherent conflict of interest in the whole process,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, regarding Stegall’s nomination.
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“The nomination of Caleb Stegall raises my concerns over the fact that he helped Gov. Brownback persuade the Legislature to pass the change in the selection process that essentially guaranteed Mr. Stegall’s nomination into the next vacant position on the Kansas Court of Appeals.”
During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Stegall said he had made that testimony on behalf of governor, his client.
Hensley also said Brownback had done a disservice to the public and the Senate by not releasing the names of the other judicial applicants for the position.
But Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, told the Senate he thinks the governor’s position to not release the names was appropriate. He said it can create a “chilling effect” for attorneys who are not selected, and that the federal government and other states do not release the names of applicants.
“I do believe there are comparisons in this process,” Bruce said. “We have comparisons with prior justices on the bench, their qualifications – both at the appellate court and the Supreme Court level – in comparison with Mr. Stegall’s abilities and experience, his breadth of knowledge.”
Hensley said the judgeship is a lifetime appointment and “goes beyond the administration of Sam Brownback.”
“You have to be a favorite of the sitting governor in order to make the cut,” Hensley said during his final chance to speak on subject.
Bruce pointed out the position has mandatory retirement at age 70.
“It is unusual for somebody this young to ask to be on the Court of Appeals,” he said of Stegall, who is 41.
Several Democrats voted against Stegall and also against the Kansas Board of Regents nominees.
Other Senate appointments approved Wednesday:
James Clark, secretary, Kansas Department of Administration; David Brant, Michael Kane and Eric Laverentz, members, Kansas Human Rights Commission; Col. Robert Windham, brigadier general, Kansas National Guard; Mark McGivern, member, Public Employee Relations Board; Joshua Ney, commissioner, Kansas Securities Commission; Kurt Knutson, member, State Banking Board; Shane Bangerter, Ann Brandau-Murguia and Helen Van Etten, members, Kansas Board of Regents; Arlen Siegfreid, chief hearing officer, Kansas Court of Tax Appeals; Ronald Mason, judge, Kansas Court of Tax Appeals; Thomas Roberts and James Washington, members, Kansas Lottery Commission; Mark Jorgenson, Daniel Thomas and Elizabeth King, members, University of Kansas Hospital Authority.