A Senate committee Tuesday voted to launch a records search of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' office and the Kansas Supreme Court for any communications between the two dealing with school finance.
"It's an attempt to get at the bottom of this," said Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, chairman of the Senate Elections and Local Government Committee.
But Democrats on the committee said it was a partisan swipe at Sebelius, who is a Democrat.
"I see this as a personal attack on Governor Sebelius," said Sen. Donald Betts, D-Wichita. "There's a campaign right around the corner."
The dispute is connected to the recent disclosure that Kansas Supreme Court Justice Lawton Nuss discussed the pending school finance lawsuit with Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, during a March 1 lunch.
When it became apparent that news of the lunch would be disclosed, Nuss announced he would remove himself from further proceedings in the case, in which the court has ordered increased funding to public schools.
House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, has launched an investigation, and Chief Justice Kay McFarland has asked the Commission on Judicial Qualifications to investigate the incident. Judges are prohibited from privately discussing pending cases with interested parties.
On Monday, Morris said he had mentioned he had a communication with the court on school finance to Sebelius during a breakfast meeting last month.
But Sebelius did nothing about that, saying she didn't think anything about Morris' comment at the time.
"His comment was offhand and not specific, and at no time did Senator Morris refer to talking to a justice," Sebelius said. "I didn't think much of it at the time because legislators from both sides of the debate have repeatedly made comments claiming to know what the court will or won't accept."
But on Tuesday, Huelskamp said he was seeking records from the governor's office because of Morris' revelation and the fact that Sebelius' former chief of staff, Joyce Allegrucci, is married to a Supreme Court justice, Donald Allegrucci.
Sebelius has denied there has been any communication between her and the court on the school finance litigation.
On a 6-2 partisan vote, the committee said it would file an open records request for any communications among Sebelius, her family, her staff and their families and the Kansas Supreme Court, their families, staff and their families.
In addition to Betts, Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, voted against the records request.
Betts said the controversial communication occurred between Nuss and Morris, and if any open records request is made, it should be made for records kept by legislators.
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