Topeka 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.
Justice Lawton Nuss
More about Justice Lawton Nuss
- Nuss gets off with warning over school finance talk
- Nuss talks turn political
- Communication between governor's office and Kansas judicial branch (.pdf)
- Code of judicial conduct (.pdf)
- Rules relating to judicial conduct(.pdf)
- Justice Nuss' response to the allegations (.pdf)
- KSGovernor.org: Sebelius responds to wide-ranging open records requests
- Justice Lawton Nuss biography, from Kansas Supreme Court web site
- KSCourts.org: Recusal Statement
- School Finance Proposed Expenditures Comparison (.pdf)
- 6News video: Nuss controversy ends with questionable punishment
- 6News video: Nuss meeting descends to bickering
- 6News video: Committee begins interviews in Nuss affair (06-08-06)
- 6News video: Committee begins investigation into Nuss affair (05-25-06)
- 6News video: Kansas lawmakers determine school finance plan (05-02-06)
- House panel votes to expand Nuss probe (06-09-06)
- Senator from Lawrence declines to testify for now (06-09-06)
- Senator denies court contact before Nuss lunch (06-08-06)
- Nuss says he regrets meeting (06-02-06)
- Supreme Court justices at a glance (08-20-04)
- More about the 'Nuss Fuss'
- More about the school finance case
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.
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.
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.