Archive for Friday, June 16, 2006

Unprecedented hearing set for justice

June 16, 2006


— In the first such case for Kansas, state Supreme Court Justice Lawton Nuss will face accusations Aug. 10 that he violated judicial rules.

The alleged violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct stem from Nuss' conversation with two legislators about school finance, a pending case before the court. Judges are prohibited from talking privately with interested parties during a case.

Nuss has removed himself from future deliberations in the school finance lawsuit.

An investigative panel for the state's Commission on Judicial Qualifications, which polices judicial conduct, alleged Nuss' conversation violated several rules that require a judge to:

¢ Uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.

¢ Avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities.

¢ Perform the duties of judicial offices impartially and diligently.

At a pre-hearing conference Thursday, Judge J. Patrick Brazil, a member of the judicial qualifications commission, set Nuss' hearing for 9 a.m. Aug. 10.

Attorneys in the case said Nuss and two lawmakers he spoke with - Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina - would be called to testify.

J. Nick Badgerow, an Overland Park attorney representing Nuss, said several character witnesses also would be asked to testify about Nuss' "sterling character."

Food and finance

Nuss has apologized for "this lapse in judgment" and acknowledged the conversation could be seen as a violation of judicial standards.

But Nuss, through a filing with the judicial qualifications commission, said he did not intentionally violate the Code of Judicial Conduct and that no harm occurred from the meeting.

Nuss met Brungardt and Morris on March 1 at Carlos O'Kelly's restaurant in Topeka.

Nuss said he had questions about a proposed school finance bill in the House and how that funding compared with what education cost studies said was needed for schools.

In April, Nuss disclosed the conversation when it became apparent it would be publicized and then removed himself from further decisions in the case.

The disclosure caused a furor among lawmakers who have been critical of the court's rulings in the school finance litigation.

House probe

Last year, the Kansas Supreme Court declared the school finance system unconstitutional because it shortchanged all students, especially those in low-income areas. The ruling resulted in a special legislative session, a $290 million funding increase and a warning from the court that more money would be necessary to pay for the actual costs of education.

This year, lawmakers approved a three-year, $466 million increase for schools, which is currently being reviewed by the court.

After Nuss' admission, House leaders formed an investigative committee to determine whether his communication with lawmakers influenced legislative work on the school funding bill.

But Nuss' attorney on Thursday said that investigation was "not relevant" to what is before the judicial qualifications commission.

"The sole focus of this matter is what happened at Carlos O'Kelly's," Badgerow said.

Representing the judicial qualifications commission will be examiner Edward Collister, a Lawrence attorney.

Both attorneys said they expected the Nuss hearing to take one day. Ron Keefover, a spokesman for the court, said a decision in the matter could come months after that.

Differing accounts

Nuss' case represents the first time the commission has opened a formal hearing against a member of the Kansas Supreme Court.

The commission will recommend to the state Supreme Court what disciplinary action, if any, should be taken. The Supreme Court could censure Nuss or suspend him. Under the Kansas Constitution, a justice can be removed only if the House impeaches him and two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict.

Badgerow said he doesn't believe Nuss' conversation warrants any kind of sanction.

Morris has stated that the entire discussion with Nuss about the school finance bill, which later was defeated, took about five minutes. Morris said Nuss had some questions about the exact funding amount of the bill and said reports that leaders sought a bipartisan plan "sounded good."

But Nuss has said he said nothing at the meeting about a bipartisan plan, and that he only sought to determine if a newspaper account of the proposed legislation was accurate.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, who is representing Morris and Brungardt, said he didn't know if the two would agree to testify to the judicial qualifications commission.

"Neither has received a formal request," Vratil said.

Both senators, so far, have refused to talk to the House committee investigating the communication between them and Nuss.


Richard Heckler 12 years ago

This whole mess leaves me to believe that the Kansas House is on some kind of a witch hunt. Thus far what has been presented is a picture of house members who are opposed to funding schools according to courts suggestion are now seeking to remove one vote of support on the bench. Was this judge somehow set up? This deal stinks.

The better idea would be to vote out our Kansas neocon republicans who seem to take their marching orders from right wing no tax Washington D.C. groups in which Sam Brownback is heavily involved. Club for Growth thus Kansas Club for Growth is one such animal which was organized by a former Brownback chief of staff. Rep. Jim Ryun goes along for the ride supporting this ideology all the way. 27 years of Reaganomics has proved itself an unworkable theory.

Richard Heckler 12 years ago

The middleclass is being eliminated inch by inch. This is the group that has been paying the bills including funding public education. There are not enough wealthy people on the planet to pay the bills.

More to the point, the way is now open for alternative thinking: the new ideas that can lead to a new governing order. These ideas must be grounded in a determination to give people back their future. The strange paradox of our times is that despite America's fabulous wealth, most people's lives are shadowed by economic anxieties and real confinements, the wounds that market ideology has imposed. They fear that much worse is ahead for their children. Reform must re-establish this fundamental principle: The economy exists to support society and people, not the other way around. Only government can liberate them from the harsh rule of the marketplace, the demands imposed by capital and corporations that stunt or stymie the full pursuit of life and liberty in this complex industrial society. This very wealthy country has the capacity to insure that all citizens, regardless of status or skills, have the essential needs to pursue secure, self-directed lives. This starts with the right to health, work, livable incomes and open-ended education, and to participate meaningfully in the decisions that govern their lives. The marketplace has no interest in providing these. It is actively destroying them.

Bobo Fleming 12 years ago

What happened to the spreadsheet? The first story was that Nuss brought a spreadsheet to the meeting with school finance information. That indicates that it was more than a lunch between friends where school finance came up. Now nobody talks about that spreadsheet.

Bobo Fleming 12 years ago

Also the J World no longer calls this a "fuss." They were critical of anyone wanting to look into this calling the matter a "fuss." What about the "fuss" now?

Jamesaust 12 years ago

"The strange paradox of our times is that despite America's fabulous wealth, most people's lives are shadowed by economic anxieties and real confinements, the wounds that market ideology has imposed."

That "strange paradox" is what's called the fundamental principle of economics: demand for goods and services are infinite while resources available are finite.

To term the average person's concern over having consumed too many DVDs of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Four" at $69.99 and thereby depleted their bank account (or more accurately reached their credit limit) as "anxiety" mocks the masses of human beings who preceeded us who know true economic "anxiety."

Of course, it should go with out having to say that it is NON-market ideology that delivers "economic anxieties and real confinements."

justthefacts 12 years ago

" the wounds that market ideology has imposed" ?????

So are you saying that the economic systems espoused and followed under Socialism and Communism regimes would provide us all with a better happier life?

If so, have you ever lived in China or Cuba for any extended length of time?

If not, may I suggest you make such a move, at least temporaily, before you embrace another type of ideology other than capitalism.

Departing from "the facts" now - IMO there are a lot of theoritical systems that would - if they worked - create a utopia on earth. However, all attempts to make every person share and share alike (including the first Christians and the hippies from the 60's) failed miserably; largely b/c selfish human nature always exerted itself and too many did too much or too little for the system to be balanced.

Thus, while far from perfect, the "market" and capitalism is the 2nd best theory and the only system that truly has worked to provide the most opportunities to the most people. It rewards and punishes based upon individual effort (and let's admit it, luck). You cannot (sucessfully) legislate charity!

usaschools 12 years ago

The spreadsheet was said to contain cost estimates related to the cost analysis study (not dollar amounts the court would accept as some have suggested). It was reported that the judge asked the Congressmen to verify the accuracy of the figures. I have no first-hand knowledge, I'm just responding to the inquiry of another poster with the information I recall.

Bobo Fleming 12 years ago

My problem with the spreadsheet is that the judge brought it to the lunch meeting. Whatever information he either gave or got at the meeting pertaining to the case could give one party to the case an advantage over other parties not present at the meeting. This is judge 101. What he was doing was something quite natural in politics. Give and take of political compromise. What do you want? What to you need to get this done? But the judge is not in politics, he is a judge and feeling out one side of the case without letting the other side in on it is a no no.

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