Crime & Courts

Kansas Chief Justice Davis retires

TOPEKA — Chief Justice Robert Davis retired Tuesday from the Kansas Supreme Court, citing health concerns. His resignation is effective immediately.

Davis, 70, sent a letter Tuesday informing Gov. Mark Parkinson of his decision. Davis has been on medical leave since spring, but continued to work on court administrative matters and caseload as his health allowed.

"This decision is difficult, but it is a choice that I make in the best interest of the court and the people of Kansas who depend on us," Davis wrote.

Court spokesman Ron Keefover declined to elaborate on Davis' health issues.

Justice Lawton Nuss, the next senior justice on the seven-member court, will replace Davis as chief justice.

A nominating commission will forward the names of three candidates to fill the vacancy on the court. Parkinson, a Democrat, will then select one from the list before he leaves office in January.

Parkinson issued a statement saying Davis would be missed for his respect of the law and service to Kansans.

"We will miss his leadership on the court, but understand that he must now devote his full attention to his health," Parkinson said.

Nuss praised Davis for his sound legal judgment and personality.

"He has an innate ability to cut to the chase of the legal issues before him, and then the knowledge and skills to write flowing and well-reasoned opinions," Nuss said in a statement. "He always has a broad smile for every living creature, and is a true friend to all of us. Kansas is losing a learned jurist and consummate public servant."

Davis had been on the court since 1993, when he was appointed by Democratic Gov. Joan Finney.

Davis had been chief justice since January 2009, when he replaced the retiring Chief Justice Kay McFarland, the first woman to serve on the court.

Davis served on the Kansas Court of Appeals for eight years before being appointed to the Supreme Court. Before that he also served as Leavenworth County attorney and, later, district court judge.

He earned his law degree from Georgetown University Law School and served with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps, including as trial counsel in South Korea and as government appellate counsel in Washington, D.C., from 1964 to 1967.

Nuss, 57, of Salina, was appointed to the court in 2002 by then-Gov. Bill Graves, a moderate Republican, after a 20-year career as an attorney in private practice. He also is a former Marine.