Archive for Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Douglas County voters retain all judges in general election

November 2, 2010, 10:08 p.m. Updated November 2, 2010, 11:59 p.m.

Advertisement

Voters agreed to keep all three Douglas County judges whose positions were up for retention this election.

Chief Judge Robert Fairchild and the county's two newest judges Peggy Kittel and Sally Pokorny all will be retained.

On the state level, Kansas voters retained all four state Supreme Court justices on Tuesday's ballot despite a vigorous ouster campaign organized by an anti-abortion group.

The retentions of Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justices Carol Beier, Dan Biles and Marla Luckert means no Kansas Supreme Court jurist has been removed by voters since the state adopted a system of gubernatorial appointments in 1960.

The group Kansans for Life this year launched a "Fire Beier" campaign in reaction to opinions Beier wrote in 2006 and 2008 criticizing former Attorney General Phill Kline's investigation of abortion clinics. Kansans for Life later expanded its ouster campaign to all four justices facing retention.

Kansans for Life executive director Mary Kay Culp had hoped the growing conservatism in the state, combined with the tea party movement, might result in the judges' removals. She contended that the state's high court had interfered with investigations of late-term abortions.

Historically, judges of the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals have been retained with an average 75 percent of the vote. With 91 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday, the four justices on the ballot were being retained with 62 to 63.5 percent.

Despite the failed effort, Culp said the group succeeded in narrowing the margin of votes and planned to be involved in the Legislature to change the way judges are nominated.

"I hope this is a warning that people care," Culp said.

Kansans for Life's effort had prompted a group of lawyers calling themselves Justice for Kansas to launch a counter-campaign to assure the "independence of the judiciary." Spokeswoman Jane Deterding said the group will continue after the election to oppose any legislative efforts to change the current merit system.

"It is a good system," Deterding said. "It does not need to be politicized."

In Kansas, the governor appoints Supreme Court justices from finalists picked by a nominating commission created to insulate the courts from politics. Kansas voters decide every six years whether a Supreme Court justice is retained.

Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an abortion rights supporter, appointed four members of the seven-member Supreme Court, including Beier and Biles. Gov. Mark Parkinson, another Democrat, on Monday appointed Court of Appeals Judge Nancy Moritz Caplinger of Topeka to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Joshua Spell, a 29-year-old postal worker in Wichita and abortion opponent, said Tuesday he voted to retain all the justices despite the campaign by Kansans for Life because he believed a judge should only be removed for cause.

"A judge should never be removed over policy," Spell said.

A state commission on judicial performance had recommended all four Supreme Court justices be retained.

Executive director Randy Hearrell said the commission's evaluations of the justices are based on evaluations from appellate lawyers who practice in front of the high court, along with evaluations of all the district judges.

The commission spent about $60,000 on advertising — including television and radio spots, ads in 128 small Kansas newspapers and "sticky notes" on the front pages of the state's biggest newspapers pointing voters to its online judicial evaluations. The commission is funded through court docket fees.

Justice for Kansas spent between $55,000 and $65,000 this election.

Culp declined to say how much Kansans for Life spent on its campaign.

The Associated Press contributed information to this story.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.