Archive for Saturday, October 14, 2000

Finney favors electing judges

Ex-governor gets involved in judicial question

October 14, 2000


— Former Gov. Joan Finney has jumped into the debate on how District Court judges should be selected, publicly declaring support for electing them in Shawnee County.

Finney has issued a statement in favor of a proposal on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. Judges in Shawnee County are appointed by the governor, after a county committee screens applications.

Voters in Atchison and Leavenworth counties also will decide whether to switch to partisan elections to fill judgeships.

Finney's statement is in keeping with her populist politics.

Before she was elected governor in 1990, she served 16 years as state treasurer and successfully fought several attempts to make that office appointive rather than elected.

"It's pretty consistent with the way she's felt about electing officials over the years," Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said Thursday.

Hensley, D-Topeka, isn't taking a public position on the Shawnee County initiative.

The governor appoints Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges because of a 1958 constitutional amendment.

District judges also are appointed in 52 of the state's 105 counties because of a 1972 amendment that allows voters to decide the selection method.

Judges who are appointed do have to stand for retention on the bench every four years.

But critics of the system say such elections are meaningless because the judges have no opponents.

Supporters of appointing judges say it's crucial that politics stay out of the judicial branch. Critics contend elections make judges accountable to voters.

Shawnee County judges have been ap-pointed since voters approved the idea in 1974.

Ten years later, 64 percent of the voters decided to keep it.

"Judges have extreme power over our lives and our property," Finney said in her statement.

"Voters deserve to choose those who govern them," she said.

Finney, who served four years as governor, noted that Kansans once elected a state auditor, a superintendent of public instruction, a state printer, county appraisers and District Court clerks.

"We tell our young people to vote, yet numerous officials that should be elective have been deleted from our ballot," she said. "It is no wonder voter turnout is so low."

The Kansas Justice Commission, a 46-member group appointed by the court, Gov. Bill Graves and the Legislature, issued a study last year that included a recommendation for a statewide "merit selection" system.

Supporters often use that phrase to describe appointing judges.

Senate Majority Leader Tim Emert, R-Independence, a member of the commission, said the appointment process "beats the election process, hands down."

"You can select on the basis of experience and knowledge of the law," Emert said.

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