Archive for Thursday, October 22, 1998

KANSAS VOTERS TO DECIDE FATE OF JUDGES

October 22, 1998

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Eight state judges will be on the November ballot, the living legacy of a 40-year-old political scandal.

What in the world does the 40-year-old Triple Play Scandal have to do with the 1998 Kansas elections? Just enough to explain eight slots on the Nov. 3 ballot.

This coming election day, voters statewide will decide if Kansas Supreme Court Justice Bob Abbott gets to keep his job on the high bench. They also will decide the fates of seven members of the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Each of the seven Kansas Supreme Court justices, after their initial appointment, are subject to voter approval every six years. Their names appear unopposed on ballots. Voters are given the simple choice of marking whether the judge should be retained in office or not. Appeals Court judges stand for retention votes every four years.

In the beginning

This tame and ritualized voter scrutiny minus the campaigning, partisanship and sniping from opponents that mark the rest of electoral politics is an enduring legacy of the Triple Play.

Before that scandal, Supreme Court justices were elected just like any other partisan candidate; just as 111 of the 225 Kansas district court judges who are not appointed still are today.

But the Triple Play rocked Kansas politics so hard that voters approved a constitutional amendment meant to depoliticize the state's top court.

"Members of the Supreme Court were elected up until 1957 when a constitutional amendment was drafted to get them out of politics because of the Triple Play," said Ron Keefover, a Supreme Court spokesman.

The amendment took the combative politics out of voting for high judges, replacing it with the retention voting that grants citizens a milder means to hold the judges accountable. In 1977, when the Legislature reformed the Kansas Court of Appeals, which now has 10 members, it adopted the retention balloting for judges, too.

What exactly was the Triple Play?

"On Jan. 3, 1957, Gov. Fred Hall accepted the resignation of William A. Smith, chief justice of the Supreme Court," Keefover said. "Gov. Hall then resigned as governor automatically elevating Lt. Gov. John McCuish to the governorship. McCuish then appointed Hall to the Supreme Court where he served until April 7,1958.

"The political maneuvering, which occurred just 11 days before Gov. George Docking took office for his first term, outraged both Republicans and Democrats," Keefover said. "The Legislature responded by placing the so-called Missouri Plan for selecting judges on the 1958 general election ballot."

It passed. The rest, as they say, is history. And in a 1998 election, seemingly devoid of suspenseful outcomes, those for the eight judges surely are the least suspenseful of all. Kansans have never turned out an appellate judge with the retention voting mechanism.

"No, never," Keefover said.

The appellate judges are barred from raising or spending campaign funds and also avoid media interviews.

On the ballot

Here are the official biographies of the judges in order of their appearance on the Nov. 3 ballot:

Supreme Court Justice Bob Abbott, 65, was born in Hanston and attended Dodge City Junior College and Emporia State University. He received his law degree at Washburn University in Topeka and an advanced law degree from University of Virginia in 1986. He was in private practice in Junction City before appointment to the Kansas Court of Appeals in 1977. He served as chief judge on the panel from 1985-91. While on that court, he authored more than 1,000 opinions and supervised expansion of the court from seven to 10 members. He was appointed to Kansas Supreme Court in 1990. He and his wife, Kaye, have four children.

Seven of 10 Kansas Court of Appeals judges are on the ballot this year. The court hears all appeals from orders of the Kansas Corporation Commission and from the state's various district courts on matters both civil and criminal.

Goodland native David S. Knudson, 57, has an undergraduate degree from Kansas University and a law degree from Washburn University in Topeka. He began his law career as assistant city attorney for Wichita and then practiced private law in Salina until 1981, when he was appointed a state administrative judge. He was named to the Court of Appeals in 1995. He and his wife, Roberta, live in Topeka.

Kay Royse, Wichita, 49, grew up on a Reno County farm. She earned graduate and post-graduate degrees in education from Emporia State University and taught speech at Miami University in Ohio before turning to law. She graduated from KU's law school in 1978. She practiced private law before serving as Sedgwick County district court judge from 1986 to 1993 when she was named to the Court of Appeals.

Atwood native Robert J. Lewis Jr., 59, earned his undergraduate and law degrees from KU. He served two years as assistant state attorney general before entering private practice in Atwood with the firm of Lewis, Lewis and Beims. He was Rawlins county attorney from 1967-71. He was appointed to the appeals court in 1989. In 1991, he received the Award for Courageous Advocacy from American College of Trial Lawyers for representation of a criminal defendant when he still was a private attorney. He and his wife, Jane, have three children and two grandchildren.

Henry W. Green, Jr., a native of Leavenworth is 48. He received undergraduate degrees at Kansas State University and is a 1975 graduate of KU's law school. From 1979 until his appointment to the court he was a U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee for Kansas. He served for free as counsel to the Buffalo Soldier Monument Committee, which raised more than $1 million to erect the monument at Fort Leavenworth. He and his wife, Shirley, have two children.

Jerry G. Elliott, Wichita, 61, native of Fort Scott. He attended Hutchinson Community College where he was a state junior college debate champion. He earned undergraduate and law degrees from Kansas University. He served active duty in the U.S. Navy as an intelligence officer. After law school he worked at the Wichita firm of Foulston, Siefkin. He was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1987. He is married to Debra Duncan and has a grown son.

Gary W. Rulon, Emporia, 57, native of Manhattan. He graduated in 1971 from Washburn law school in Topeka. He was in private practice until December 1979 when he became a staff attorney for 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver. In 1981, he became administrative judge for 5th Kansas Judicial District. He was named to the Court of Appeals in 1988. He and his wife, Pat, have two daughters.

Robert L. Gernon of Hiawatha, 55, native of Sabetha. He received an undergraduate degree in business from KU and a law degree from Washburn University. Prior to appointment to the appeals bench in 1988, he worked in various capacities, including Brown county attorney and probation investigator for Shawnee County. He serves on the Supreme Court's task force on permanency planning for juveniles dealt with by the courts or social service agencies. He and his wife, Sharon, have two children.

-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is mshields@ljworld.com.

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