Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that she had three excellent nominees to the Kansas Supreme Court, including Douglas County District Court Judge Robert Fairchild, but she selected Dan Biles, a Shawnee attorney, because of her personal and professional relationship with him.
Sebelius said of Biles, Fairchild and the other nominee, Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Malone, “there wasn’t a wrong decision to make.”
Both Fairchild and Malone have years of judicial experience, but Sebelius noted Biles’ legal work on complex constitutional cases before the Kansas Supreme Court.
For example, Biles represented the State Board of Education in the huge school finance lawsuit that eventually forced nearly $900 million in additional education funding.
Biles said he has argued cases before the state Supreme Court more than 20 times.
Biles’ law partner is Kansas Democratic Party Chairman Larry Gates, but Sebelius, a Democrat, denied that had anything to do with her selection process. Instead, she noted her longtime relationship with Biles.
“I have called on Dan professionally over and over again,” she said.
Biles and Sebelius’ husband, Gary Sebelius, a federal magistrate judge, worked for years as attorneys on school litigation stemming from the landmark Brown v. Board of Education desegregation lawsuit.
Sebelius said her husband was a “great judge of people” and is a fan of Biles.
The selection of Biles represented the third time Fairchild had made the final cut for a seat on the Kansas Supreme Court — and the third time that Sebelius didn’t pick him.
Fairchild said he was disappointed he wasn’t selected but honored to have been nominated. “I’m fortunate that I have a great position that I love and people I love working with,” he said.
He wished Biles “the best.”
Biles, 56, will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Chief Justice Kay McFarland. Biles and his wife, Amy McCart, who is an assistant research professor in the department of special education at Kansas University, have three children.