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Archive for Friday, April 28, 2006

KU law prof says legislative probe of justice’s meeting unwarranted

April 28, 2006

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The Kansas Legislature could - but shouldn't - conduct its own investigation into the actions of state Supreme Court Justice Lawton Nuss, says a Kansas University law professor.

"In my own opinion, that would be a serious overreaction to this situation, at least at this time and with what we know," KU law professor Mike Hoeflich wrote Thursday during an online chat on the Journal-World's Web site.

Hoeflich responded to about a dozen legal questions concerning a lunch Nuss had March 1 with two state senators where school finance was discussed.

After the meeting was revealed last week, Nuss recused himself from any further court deliberations on the pending school finance case.

Since that time, Supreme Court Chief Justice Kay McFarland has asked the state's Commission on Judicial Qualifications to investigate the matter to see if Nuss violated any ethical rules and regulations and to determine if he should be punished.

Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's office also is investigating the matter. And several legislators, including House Speaker Doug Mays, have discussed having a legislative investigation.

Hoeflich said the Legislature had the right to begin an investigation if impeachment proceedings are appropriate and initiated.

But lawmakers should let the state's Commission on Judicial Qualifications do its job, Hoeflich wrote.

In an interview after the chat, Hoeflich said it was likely the commission would find Nuss merely made a mistake in bringing up school finance as he had lunch with Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina.

"It doesn't sound to me that this is going to be a very complex investigation, unless you subscribe to these conspiracy theories," Hoeflich said.

"If aliens came down from Mars and planted a device in Justice Nuss' head to force him to do this, then maybe it will take forever," Hoeflich said, joking.

The KU law professor said the commission probably would ask for testimony from those involved and get whatever records are available. And Hoeflich said he expected the commission to conduct its investigation out of the public eye.

"There are all sorts of accusations being made right, left and center in the Legislature by certain legislators," Hoeflich said. "And I think it would be grossly unfair to Justice Nuss and to the courts and to all the people involved to put it all out there before it's been winnowed through."

To read the entire transcript of Hoeflich's chat, view video clips of a postchat interview and add comments, go to www2.ljworld.com/news/chats/newsmakers/.

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