Gov. Sam Brownback should have vetoed the bill linking needed additional dollars for the judiciary to unneeded systemic changes undercutting the Kansas Supreme Court’s authority. Instead, he signed the bundled bill last week, even saying in a press release that the legislation “includes minor reforms.”
So, just like that – over the objections of the Kansas Bar Association and other attorney and court employee groups and some judges, and without any House Judiciary Committee hearings – it is now state law that the chief judge of each of the state’s 31 judicial districts can control his own budget and that district judges will select their own chief judge.
Never mind that since 1972 the Kansas Constitution has said that “the Supreme Court shall have general administrative authority over all courts in this state.” Or that, as one district judge warned, the law could create “31 judicial fiefdoms” and, according to a bill summary, increase administrative costs for district courts.
No wonder the high court issued an extraordinary rebuke Friday, saying in part that the bill “weakens the centralized authority of the Kansas unified court system in exchange for money to pay our employees and keep courts open. And the money it provides still may fall short of even doing that. This is a poor trade. We have very serious concerns about what will happen to the administration of justice in Kansas. We believe Kansans deserve better.”
So do we.