The chief judge of the Kansas Court of Appeals today said the state's process of electing judges is flawed because it creates opportunities for corruption.
"In my view, that type of procedure has potential for conflicts of interest," Judge Mary Beck Briscoe of Topeka told Girls State participants at Kansas University.
"Obviously, if you're running a campaign you need contributions. Who's going to contribute to the campaign but attorneys and special interest groups who are interested in how you may vote on a case," she said.
District judges are appointed by the governor unless individual counties choose to elect those judges. Half the state's district court judges are elected, according to the judicial administrator's office in Topeka. Appellate judges are appointed.
Girls State is a weeklong event designed to give high school girls an opportunity to learn about state and local government. It's sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary.
Briscoe graduated in 1973 from KU's law school and has been on the Court of Appeals since 1984.
LAST YEAR, the 10-member court of appeals considered 1,300 cases that were appealed from the state's municipal and district courts.
Briscoe said that three-judge panels consider each appeal. That panel usually reaches a tentative decision the day lawyers present oral arguments on the case.
"In a lot of these cases, it's a foregone conclusion," she said. "It is obvious to anyone reading the briefs and the district court's opinion who should win and who should lose. In many of these cases, it's open and shut."
While some cases aren't difficult, Briscoe said, the docket remains diverse and exciting. She will hear divorce, defamation, rape and tax cases today and Tuesday.
Briscoe said attorneys appearing before a court panel have 15 minutes to make their case. The most effective lawyers are brief and to the point, she said.
"We don't want to hear a fact statement," she said. "We want the issue that turns the case."
The judge said some people who appeal cases aren't as concerned about the ultimate outcome as they are in being heard.
"THEY WANT someone to listen to their side, to consider their point of view," she said.
Briscoe offered advice to women interested in law careers. Academics come first, she said.
"Study hard right now," she said. "It has become increasingly difficult to get into the practice of law in Kansas because the job market is so terrible."
Briscoe said some of the best attorneys studied English in college.
"I'm not a pusher of pre-law curriculum that some colleges have developed. In college, be concerned about the ability to express yourself in writing and orally," she said.