Archive for Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Board of Ed follows Kline’s lead to dodge court order

July 6, 2005


Conservative state school board members used their majority to side with Atty. Gen. Phill Kline on a plan for neutering the Kansas Supreme Court's threat to freeze funding for public schools.

"We believe it is important to try to do something to keep schools open," said board Chairman Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City.

But the conservatives' latest effort Tuesday to outmaneuver the court may not ensure that schools reopen on schedule in August.

Under the plan, the State Board of Education agreed to certify in advance six months' worth of aid due to the state's 301 school districts. Historically, the board's aid requests have been filed monthly with the State Treasurer's Office.

The plan, in theory, would allow the board to accumulate enough money to fend off for six months the court's threat to freeze funding for public schools.

The board's vote was 6-4, with Kline's fellow conservative Republicans approving the plan.

Kline urged the full board to adopt the strategy during a morning meeting. The vote followed a two-hour executive session.

Former A.G.s sound off on Kline's action

Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's advice to the State Board of Education on how to sidestep a possible state Supreme Court order was puzzling to some of his predecessors in the attorney general's office:

¢ "It's interesting to me to see that he evidently doesn't think the court's opinion carries the weight of law and that it can somehow be circumvented," said Bob Stephan, who was attorney general from 1979 to 1994. "I'm surprised."

Stephan, a Republican, predicted the court "would not be too pleased" with Kline's counseling education officials how to skirt the ruling.

"This whole thing is very upsetting to me," said the 72-year-old Stephan, who's still practicing law in Lenexa.

¢ "Like any lawyer, the attorney general is an officer of the court," said Curt Schneider, attorney general from 1975 to 1979. "And as an officer of the court, an attorney general should never promote or condone anything to avoid an order of the court."

Schneider said that on several occasions he'd been angered by a judge's ruling.

"But I would never counsel a client on how to avoid following an order of the court," he said. Schneider, a Democrat, lives and practices law in Coffeyville.

¢ But Vern Miller, attorney general from 1971 to 1975, said he didn't fault Kline for looking for a way to get around the ruling.

"Those are his clients," he said, referring to the State Board of Education. "He has a responsibility to advise them of all their options. I don't see anything wrong with that. I'd be surprised if he did it to spite the court."

Afterward, board member Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat, said the vote demonstrated "contempt" for the court.

Disagreement on method

Kline told board members he believed the court could not prevent the state treasurer from distributing money once the amount due was certified by the state school board.

But others weren't so sure, including the state treasurer.

"I have the law in front of me right now," State Treasurer Lynn Jenkins, a Republican, said during a telephone interview Tuesday, "and it says the amounts due are subject to the approval of the budget director and of the Division of Accounts and Reports," both of whom answer to the governor.

State Budget Director Duane Goossen, who works for Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said he wouldn't go along with the board's plan.

"We will continue to follow the law and the normal procedures," Goossen said.

And Sebelius released this statement: "The best way to guarantee that schools remain open is for the Legislature to uphold its obligations to Kansas kids and pass a responsible school funding plan before Friday."

Special sessions resumes

Legislators were to begin their 12th day of work in a special session today, five days after missing the July 1 deadline set by the court for providing an extra $143 million for schools. Lawmakers' failure to approve an education funding bill led the court to set a Friday hearing on whether it should withhold money from schools.

Conservatives in the Legislature have insisted they will not support any school finance measure that isn't paired with legislative approval of a proposed constitutional amendment limiting the court's powers.

Jenkins said even if the Sebelius administration went along with the Kline plan there was nothing to stop the court from going around the state board of education and ordering her office not to release the funds. If that happened, she said, she would comply with the court.

"Certainly, I am going to obey the law," Jenkins said.

Unorthodox plan

Kansas legal experts said they were baffled by Kline's stance and advice to the school board.

"I have no recollection of anything comparable to this," said Jim Concannon, a former dean at the Washburn University Law School in Topeka.

"I don't know where (Kline) gets the idea that the court can't prevent the treasurer from distributing the money," Kansas University law professor Richard Levy said. "And even if it couldn't, it could enjoin the districts from spending it."

Attempts to reach Kline for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful. But Kline spokesman Whitney Watson said the attorney general's actions underscored a commitment to keep schools open.

Alan Rupe, the lead attorney for the plaintiff school districts in the lawsuit that brought the question of school finance before the court, bristled at the notion of the state's top law enforcement official counseling the board on ways to sidestep the court's ruling.

"We live in a society that's based on the rule of law," Rupe said. "We don't tolerate law avoidance. What kind of example does it set for children to have the chief law enforcement officer (Kline) showing contempt for a court order and trying to get around the law? Shame on him."

But Watson said Kline's actions were appropriate and aimed only at keeping the state's schools open.

Rupe and Levy disagreed. Both warned that Kline's urging the board to sidestep the order put him at risk of being found in contempt by the court.

"Certainly, for an attorney in private practice to so openly and publicly counsel a client on how to avoid complying with a court order could (probably) be sanctionable," Levy said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


John1945 12 years, 9 months ago

Rule of law my foot. These liberal ambulance chasers have long since negated the rule of law.

In Massachusetts when they looked at a document written by the Puritans and discovered homosexual marriage, was that the rule of law?

Here in Kansas after the Supreme Court had ruled that the death penalty was just fine, Sebelius' new oppressors decided to mollycoddle mass murderers like the Carr brothers and John Robinson. Even Kay McFarland said it was solely because they could do so, not the rule of law.

Thanks to the legal "profession" we have a sick and declining society. Our democratic institutions are in peril because these unelected, unrepresentative tyrants choose to ignore the law and manufacture any nonsense they want.

To hell with them. Three cheers for Phill Kline. Power to the people, down with our ambulance chasing oppressors.

dirkleisure 12 years, 9 months ago

Um, John, the current Governor has only made one appointment to the court. The changes to the death penalty law would not have been possible without the two justices appointed at the end of Governor Bill Graves' term.

Bill Graves, John. Take your conservative witch-hunt blinders off.

If you ever have a lawyer who tells you to blatantly ignore a judge's order, John, you should very quickly get a new lawyer.

usaschools 12 years, 9 months ago

I'm certain virtually all readers will recognize john1945's rants as the extremist nonsense that they are. I have to admit, if they were satire, it would be funny to see the words "power to the people" and "Three cheers for Phil Kline" adjacent to each other!

How about a constitutional amendment that forbids the attorney general from giving the legislature, or anyone else, advice on how to avoid complying with an order of the State Supreme Court??? What we have here is an activist attorney general!! He doesn't like the way our system of government works, so he tries to avoid obeying the law! That's what happens when you vote the party line instead of looking at the qualifications of the candidates! Kline has very, very little court experience, which was a major issue during the campaign. It shows!

Densmore 12 years, 9 months ago

Sadly, john1945 is correct when he observes that we have a "sick and declining society." This sick and declining society is evidenced by john1945 and his ilk, a slippery Attorney General, and a spineless legislature.

I was once proud to be a Kansan. When I was a child in the fifties and sixties, Kansans were known as gentle, hardworking people of the plains that educated their children and cared for those in need. Now we are becoming a bunch of mean-spirited, selfish, tax and law avoiders, waging a political war at the expense of little school children. This is a sad sad situation, my fellow Kansans.

Dani Davey 12 years, 9 months ago

I'm a little worried about John. His extremist ignorance about how things are supposed to be and the way things really are has me a little worried that there are more like him.

Bobo Fleming 12 years, 9 months ago

There are lots of grey areas when the branches clash. For instance if the Treasurer is ordered to do something by the Court or not do something who enforces the order. Do the seven members of the court come down and arrest the state treasurer. The last time I looked the attorney general was the chief law enforcement officer of the state so who arrests him? And by the way since the State Treasurer is not a party to the law suit, just exactly how does the court give the treasurer an order. Doesnt the treasurer need to be made a party in the case. Dont listen to the law professors. They all hob nob with the court members when and if the court members decide to come down off the bench and mix with the "people."

Dani Davey 12 years, 9 months ago

Yeah, don't listen to the law professors. I mean, why would they know anything about the law?

publicdefender 12 years, 9 months ago

The March of the Pinheads is about to be legally squashed by the Supreme (did I just say "SUPREME"?) Court of Kansas. Welcome to ninth grade civics, Mr. Kline. Oh, and just a legal tip, FEDERAL courts do not take STATE-ONLY issues, like say EDUCATION. Quit playing "Triumph of the Will," you Republican ChristiaNazis. WAKE UP and smell the civilization.

ksmattfish 12 years, 9 months ago

The more education a person gets, the more likely they are to be a Democrat, support a secular government, and be a liberal. The Republicans in power are well aware of this. Making sure kids get a proper education is not to their advantage. Insuring that the schools don't have proper funding, and confusing science with religion increases their base. A nation of ignorance guarantees their success, and that is their plan.

piercedguy 12 years, 9 months ago

Conservative Repuiblicans are simple-minded people who do not allow any divergence of opinion. It is against their interests. They want "group think", no individuality! You would believe we, as a society, would have learned that "group think" in a democracy never is a good thing. Does anyone recall the events in pre-WWII Germany? I wonder when Obenoppenfuehrer Kline will demand a salute? It would give most Kansans some peace-of-mind just to know that he could spell "compromise."

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