Archive for Sunday, September 15, 1996


September 15, 1996


Voters will be asked to retain, rather than re-elect, several judges on Nov. 5. But that wasn't always the case in Douglas County or the state.

On Nov. 5, Douglas County voters will be asked to retain three district court judges, four Kansas Supreme Court justices and three Kansas Court of Appeals justices.

But why aren't judges simply elected rather than retained every four years?

The answer on the state level stems from the "Triple Play" scandal of the late-1950s, and on the local level, an election in Douglas County in 1974.

Before 1958, Kansas Supreme Court justices were appointed by the governor.

In the so-called "Triple Play" scandal, then-Gov. Fred Hall accepted the resignation of William A. Smith, chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Hall then resigned as governor, automatically elevating Lt. Gov. John McCuish to the governorship.

McCuish then appointed Hall to the Supreme Court, causing an outrage among the public and the Legislature, which enacted a Constitutional amendment changing the way Supreme Court nominees are selected.

"Prior to that (judges) ran partisan elections," rather than being retained, said Ron Keefover, education/information officer with the Kansas Supreme Court's office of judicial administration. "The Constitutional amendment changed that."

In Douglas County, judges also were elected every four years until county voters in 1974 voted by a two-thirds majority to adopt the retention system.

"I think there was some concern that by judges being elected like other officials, and with people contributing to their campaigns, you can see what happens if you get on the wrong side of the law," said county clerk Patty Jaimes.

Retention, she said, allows judges to continue with their duties through a public vote without politicizing the office.

"A lot of people feel (retention) is a more professional method than being appointed," she said.

But Jaimes said some voters feel that judges should be elected for accountability.

"There would be something written about them as to why they should be elected," she said.

Both Jaimes and Keefover said that when voters cast a "yes" or "no" vote to retaining judges, the main criteria they use are the judges' decisions on specific cases, not various judicial issues or on whether the judge is qualified.

"If you've not had to go though the court system you'll probably say, 'Well, they seem to be doing OK,'" Jaimes said.

"But if you have been through the court system, it probably depends on which side (of a case) you've been on," Jaimes said.

Keefover said there have been "loose" efforts by various groups to organize "no" votes against retaining Supreme Court justices.

"Typically, when that happens it's a result of a particular decision, not the judge's qualifications," he said.

Keefover added that nearly all judges are "eminently qualified" or else they would not have been nominated to the position.

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