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Archive for Wednesday, July 20, 2005

State Supreme Court nominee will need personality

Sebelius says her pick must be compatible with current justices

July 20, 2005

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— With the deadline for an appointment looming, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday that a potential Kansas Supreme Court justice's personality and ability to work well with others will be key factors in whom she picks.

Sebelius has until Saturday to fill a vacancy created by the death in March of Justice Robert Gernon. There are three finalists: Douglas County District Court Judge Robert W. Fairchild, Shawnee County District Court Judge Eric S. Rosen and Lawrence attorney Martha J. Coffman.

The court has come under increased scrutiny for ordering legislators in June to increase spending on public schools. Legislators approved a $148.4 million school finance plan on July 6 during a 12-day special session.

"The Supreme Court operates as a group," Sebelius told reporters. "Getting along with other people, having a personality where they can work in a group is pretty critical."

Sebelius said she plans to interview Coffman, Fairchild and Rosen this week, adding that some staff members will sit in on the sessions.

"I look for qualities of intelligence and capability and experience, and look at what they've done in their previous positions," Sebelius said.

The finalists were among 13 applicants for Gernon's position. Their names were forwarded to Sebelius by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, which consists of five members elected by attorneys and four appointed by the governor.

Some legislators have complained that the process gives the governor too much power in shaping the court, and have proposed requiring Senate confirmation of new justices. Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, said the public has little information about the selection process.

But Journey, an attorney, didn't fault Sebelius for wanting a new justice who will work well with the court's other six members.

"The rules of kindergarten apply there as well as here," he said.

Recently, Fairchild presided over the murder trial of Thomas E. Murray, a Kansas State University professor who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his ex-wife.

In 2003, Rosen ruled in favor of Sebelius in a lawsuit filed by The Associated Press and several news organizations over open meetings. Rosen ruled that the advisory groups Sebelius formed before she took office were not required to hold open meetings until after her inauguration. The ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeals.

Coffman advises the three members of the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, and is a former research director for the state Court of Appeals.

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