Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday denied having any inside information from the Kansas Supreme Court on the school finance lawsuit.
And Democrats came to Sebelius' defense against a Republican blitz led by Sen. Tim Huelskamp seeking records from her office.
"Sen. Huelskamp has embarked on a political fishing expedition," said Mike Gaughan, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party.
"It's surprising that in a landlocked state there are so many deep-sea fishermen in the Kansas Legislature," Gaughan said.
At least five requests under the Kansas Open Records Act were filed by Republican legislators for records in Sebelius' office.
The flurry of paperwork erupted after Justice Lawton Nuss removed himself from further proceedings in the school finance lawsuit after he disclosed April 20 that he talked about the case with Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, over lunch on March 1.
"I thought this was a problem between a Republican-appointed judge and two Republican senators," said Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence.
"The Republicans seem to be trying to expand the inquiry, perhaps because the problem was focused on the Republican Party," Francisco added.
Into the furor
Sebelius was pulled into the furor when Morris said that before Nuss came forward, Morris had mentioned his communication with the court at a breakfast meeting with Sebelius.
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
Sebelius said she didn't take Morris' comment seriously when he said it because it was an off-hand 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 Thursday, Sebelius said she wanted to clear the air.
"First, I have never had any communication whatsoever with any Supreme Court Justice or anyone associated with the Court about the school finance case or any pending case, period. I never have, and I never would. Nor has any Supreme Court Justice, or anyone associated with the Court, ever had any such communication with me.
"Second, no one has ever given me any inside information about how the court might rule on the school finance case or any other case," she said.
Open records search
But Republicans voiced suspicions.
Led by Huelskamp, R-Fowler, the Senate Elections and Local Government Committee filed 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. Other requests have been filed, too.
Huelskamp and some other Republicans have long complained that Justice Donald Allegrucci should have removed himself from the school case because he is married to Joyce Allegrucci, who is Sebelius' former chief of staff.
Sebelius said she will comply with the records requests but said some were "inexplicably wide-ranging, even to include communication between me and members of my family."
Her office indicated it would take a long time and lots of staff hours to comply with the requests.
Huelskamp offered an alternative, saying he would be satisfied if everyone in Sebelius' office signed sworn statements that they had no contact with the court on school finance. Nicole Corcoran, a spokeswoman for Sebelius, said Huelskamp had not told them about that proposal.
Also on Thursday, the Elections and Local Government Committee issued an open records request with the Kansas Supreme Court for communications on the school finance lawsuit.
On another front, the Commission on Judicial Qualifications will meet today and is expected to consider a request by Kansas Supreme Court Justice Kay McFarland to investigate allegations of inappropriate communication by Nuss to state legislators.
The commission, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct, will meet in a closed session. If it approves a notice of formal proceedings, then its hearings will be public, according to Ron Keefover of the Office of Judicial Administration.
The commission's examiner is Edward G. Collister Jr., a longtime Lawrence lawyer with nearly 40 years of legal experience.
Collister declined to comment on McFarland's request or about what might happen at the meeting.
But he has been outspoken in his defense of the Kansas Supreme Court.
"If you believe the Constitution is important and that you're supposed to support it, that is exactly what you do," he said.
Collister last year wrote in a letter to the editor of the Journal-World that the Kansas Supreme Court has the final authority in determining requirements of the state Constitution. The statement was written in the context of the school finance debate.
The year before, Collister was a member of a committee that worked in favor of retaining Judge Paula Martin, who was the target of an attempt to unseat her because of some sentences in a rape case that the Kansas Court of Appeals later said were too lenient.