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Archive for Thursday, June 15, 2006

Sebelius: Records show no wrong

June 15, 2006

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— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' office said Wednesday that records turned over to a state senator prove her office had no improper contact with the Kansas Supreme Court on school finance.

"There really wasn't much of anything there," Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said of the approximately 100 pages of e-mails and news releases given to Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler.

The packet, also provided to the Journal-World, deals with the death of one court justice, the appointment of another, and logistics in putting together a Veteran's Day event.

The e-mails regarding a Veteran's Day event and a veteran's related bill were to Jack Fowler, who is an administrative assistant to Chief Justice Kay McFarland. But he was being contacted by the governor's office in his role as chairman of the state veteran's commission.

Huelskamp, a vocal critic of the court and Sebelius, who is a Democrat, filed several requests under the Kansas Open Records Act for any communications among Sebelius, her family, her staff and their families and the Kansas Supreme Court, their families, staff and their families. Democrats had accused Huelskamp of going on a fishing expedition.

At the center of the dispute is the pending school finance lawsuit.

State Supreme Court Justice Lawton Nuss removed himself from further proceedings in the lawsuit after he disclosed April 20 that he talked about school finance legislation with Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, over lunch on March 1.

Sebelius was pulled into the controversy when Morris said before Nuss came forward, Morris had mentioned his communication with the court at a breakfast meeting with Sebelius.

Sebelius has said she didn't take Morris' comment seriously when he said it because it was an offhand remark, and legislators often have said they believe they know what the court wants in the long-running legal battle.

The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered lawmakers to increase school funding to make up for inadequate funding of low-income school districts.

In a written statement last month, Sebelius adamantly denied communicating with the court on school finance or any pending case, or of knowing of any communications.

Huelskamp received the records Tuesday but said he wouldn't release them until he had time to analyze them. He did not return a telephone call for comment Wednesday.

In those records, the only communication on school finance was sent by Corcoran to court spokesman Ron Keefover on March 30, 2005. It was a copy of Sebelius' public comments that were critical of a school finance bill that had just been passed by the Legislature. She allowed the bill to become law without her signature, and the court later ordered the Legislature to further increase school funding.

On Wednesday, Keefover said he had no memory of asking for that news release nor of getting it.

Corcoran also sent an e-mail to Eric Rosen right before the news conference last year, where Sebelius announced his appointment to the Supreme Court.

In the email, Corcoran offered tips to Rosen in dealing with the media at the news conference.

"My advice: Do not answer anything you do not want to. Don't take the bait ... If it gets to be too much - I would just revert to: you know, I am honored to be chosen to serve on our state's highest court - at this point it is all a bit overwhelming."

Huelskamp's open records requests were made through the Kansas Legislative Research Department and then handled by the governor's chief counsel Matt All.

All sought clarification of the requests but said he never received responses from the research department nor Huelskamp. All charged the department $445 to search and retrieve the records.

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