Court critic denied access to justices’ records

? A state senator on Tuesday criticized the Kansas Supreme Court for refusing to release information related to the school finance lawsuit.

“Most, if not all, of these records are clearly of a public nature,” Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said.

At the center of the dispute is a conversation Justice Lawton Nuss had about school finance with two legislators.

Discussions on pending cases outside the court arena are prohibited unless all parties are participating.

Last year, the Kansas Supreme Court declared the school finance system unconstitutional and currently is reviewing the Legislature’s recent three-year $466 million increase to schools.

Since news of the discussion broke, Nuss has removed himself from future deliberations in the case and apologized. He faces a disciplinary hearing, and his actions also are being investigated by a House committee.

Huelskamp, who has been a vocal critic of the court, filed four requests under the Kansas Open Records Act for records from the court.

He asked for copies of justices’ appointment calendars; telephone records of justices and their staffs; any communications on the school finance lawsuit; and written reports by court staff to justices on school finance legislation.

Each request was denied. Ron Keefover, a spokesman for the court, cited a part of the Open Records law that exempts the judiciary.

Under the act, “any municipal judge, judge of the district court, judge of the court of appeals or justice of the supreme court” is exempt from the definition of public agencies that must comply with the law. Keefover also cited the Supreme Court’s operating procedures that keep secret all internal comments and writings concerning court matters.

But Huelskamp said some of his requests for records were aimed at staff members and shouldn’t be exempt from the Open Records Act.

Huelskamp said one of his main concerns was getting access to reports provided by court staff to justices pertaining to proposed school finance legislation.

In a written response to allegations against him before the Judicial Qualifications Commission, Nuss’ attorney said Nuss’ monitoring of a House bill on school funding was “consistent with the court staff’s practice of providing regular written reports to the court regarding proposed school funding bills during the 2005 legislative session.”

Huelskamp said the court should not have been gathering information about school finance legislation outside of what was officially submitted into the court record.

He said his next move would be to either file a lawsuit to try to get the records or ask the House committee investigating the Nuss conversation to subpoena the records.