Crime & Courts

Kansas district judge sues state over court budget law

A Kansas chief district judge sued the state Wednesday over a bill that weakened the administrative power of the Kansas Supreme Court over district courts.

HB 2338, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law last spring over strong opposition from Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, shifted control of district courts’ budgets from the Kansas Supreme Court to each district court’s chief judge.

Proponents said district court judges were better suited to make budgetary decisions for their courts, while critics said the bill weakened the state’s unified court system. The Supreme Court retained its power to set the funding amount for each district court.

Judge Larry Solomon, chief judge of the 30th District, filed a lawsuit in Shawnee County, contending the bill violates the state constitution’s separation of powers.

The 30th District, which Solomon oversees, includes Barber, Harper, Kingman, Pratt and Sumner counties.

The suit contends the Legislature is constitutionally forbidden from enacting a law that conflicts with the court’s authority over the unified court system.

In a release in support of the suit, Ryan Wright, the executive director of Kansans For Fair Courts, accused the Legislature of passing the law as political retribution against the Supreme Court for unpopular decisions.

“Judges should be free of political pressures and decide cases impartially based on the facts and the law,” Wright said. “They should not have to worry that their decisions could be used against them for political gain.”

Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, supported the law.

"Empowering local officials, including judges, to make their own budget decisions is part of the Kansas tradition of local control. It's good policy. Nothing in this law gives any greater budget authority to the Legislature, nor was it proposed in response to any court decision," King wrote in an e-mail.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.