Opinion Columns & Blogs

Richard J. Peckham: Four justices should be voted out of office

H. Edward Flentje, an emeritus professor at Wichita State University, criticized expected efforts to vote out Kansas Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges (“Governor, lawmakers aim to pack the courts,” March 13 Opinion). Five are up for retention votes in November: Justices Lawton Nuss, Marla Luckert, Carol Beier, Daniel Biles and Caleb Stegall. Four of them – Nuss, Luckert, Beier and Biles – should be removed from office for cause.

Flentje, who has never practiced law, refuses to recognize serious problems with the performance of our high court. Having practiced law 35 years as a Kansas attorney, I can assure you that careful attention to their performance demonstrates serious lack of qualification.

With the exception of Stegall, the justices have shown disregard for the constitution, the statutes and the people of Kansas.

The four ignored state law in considering the death penalty case of the Carr brothers, who committed mass murder and horrible atrocities, improperly striking down the valid decision of the Sedgwick County District Court. The flawed state Supreme Court ruling was soundly overruled by both the left and the right justices on the U.S. Supreme Court (8-1), the second time the Kansas court has been caught ignoring the Constitution and state law in a Kansas death penalty case in recent times.

Several years ago Nuss had lunch with one of the parties in an earlier school finance case in order to consider evidence, without the presence of a court reporter or counsel, an egregious violation of law and procedure. Nuss was admonished but is now the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

This court improperly suspended the law license of a former Kansas attorney general whose only mistake was trying to protect Kansas child rape victims. That ruling is now under review by the federal courts.

The ongoing battle between the Supreme Court and the Legislature over the judiciary budget is a reflection of the complete lack of skill shown by the court in negotiating with the representatives of the people.

These are merely four demonstrations of the unfitness of the Kansas Supreme Court in recent times.

The current justice selection procedure should be changed. Instead of the highly political appointment by the governor (so-called merit selection), there are two less political, more democratic methods: select all judges and justices by popular vote, or make the governor’s recommendations subject to advice and consent of the Senate.

The framers of the Kansas Constitution and public laws recognized that there is a time to replace arrogant, recalcitrant justices. This is such a time.

Richard J. Peckham of Andover is chairman of Kansas Judicial Review.