Archive for Friday, April 6, 2012

Speaker of Kansas House, Supreme Court chief justice disagree on furloughs

April 6, 2012


— House Speaker Mike O’Neal on Friday said the state judicial system shouldn’t shut down for five days, but instead should use a reserve of attorney fees until the Legislature approves a budget.

But Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said that would be unfair.

“If we’re going to be intellectually honest about it, then someone should go to our firefighters and say you got to pay for your own fire trucks because you’re the only ones who drive them,” Nuss said.

“And you should go to our police officers and say the same thing. You’re the only ones who drive your patrol vehicles and you’re the only people we know who actually put people in the jails, so you should pay for your own vehicles and your jails,” he said.

Nuss said that wouldn’t be fair because the courts are open for all Kansans and not just for the benefit of attorneys.

Earlier this week, Nuss announced he will order five court closure dates because the House and Senate last week failed to approve a supplemental budget that included $1.4 million needed by the judicial system to make payroll through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. An agreement on the budget seemed imminent and then unraveled at the last minute before legislators went on their annual break.

The furloughs would affect 1,500 workers and start next Friday, April 13, and occur every other Friday after that for a total of five days.

O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, however, said the court could tap into reserves of other funds until the Legislature approves a budget when the 2012 session reconvenes April 25.

In a news release, O’Neal said a specific fund available is called the Bar Discipline Fee Fund.

“The Supreme Court has the authority to use the Bar Discipline Fee Fund as they deem appropriate,” O’Neal said. “It is disappointing to me that the court would furlough employees rather than take advantage of the estimated $3 million currently at their disposal in this fund.”

He said state statutes give the Kansas Supreme Court ultimate authority on how to use that fund.

The Bar Discipline Fee Fund is made up of an annual registration fee of $175 paid by every Kansas attorney.

Nuss said the fund is used to pay for the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, which reviews and investigates complaints against attorneys. The office annually reviews about 1,000 complaints.

It also funds a program that reimburses clients for problems caused by the dishonest conduct of Kansas attorneys. Another program funded by the Bar Discipline Fee Fund is one that assists lawyers who are experiencing personal difficulties that are harming their practice.

“It is not available for ongoing judicial branch operations,” Nuss said.

Earlier this year, the House Appropriations Committee considered using the Bar Discipline Fee to cover the judiciary shortfall, which has been caused by lower-than-expected case filings.

Martha Coffman, general counsel for the Office of Judicial Administration, however, said there were several problems with that plan.

In a memo to committee members, Coffman said, “legislative taking of attorney registration fees assessed by the Supreme Court per its constitutional authority may very well violate the separation of powers doctrine contained in the Kansas Constitution.”

She also said the costs of the judicial branch should be shared by all Kansans.

“The cost of administering justice for 2.85 million Kansans should not be borne by 10,800 attorneys who comprise 0.0038 of the population,” she said.


grimpeur 6 years ago

O’Neal: “It is disappointing to me that the court would furlough employees rather than take advantage of the estimated $3 million currently at their disposal in this fund.”

Pass the buck, go on vacation, then try to pin the blame on the court? How like you. How disingenuous. How unsurprising.

Mr. O'Neal, with all due respect, you are a real piece of, um, work.

billbodiggens 6 years ago

Under O’Neal’s tutelage and “stewardship” the legislature has stolen from the highway funds until we may need to give driving lessons to people to help them drive on sand roads. They have “stolen” from the retirement funds to pay for everything but retirements. (Using money needed to pay the state's share for other things is stealing in my book.) Now O’Neal wants the Supreme Court to steal from other statutorily designated funds. You’re doing one hell of a job, brownie-o’neal. Rapacious raiding of the treasury for special projects (remember the State House splendor and your wonderful parking garage and tax breaks for your buddies) has made O’Neil jealous and resentful towards those who have tried to exercise some self-restraint in spending. Just a small man with small thoughts. One can only hope that his political Waterloo comes quickly before he trashes the entire state government for his own selfish purposes. O’Neil disagrees? That is not news. He is one of the most disagreeable people to ever have tread upon the steps of the State House. Under his watch one would be an absolute fool to trust in the legislature doing what is right. He is the epitome of the gage line, “Trust me, I’m from the government.”

pace 6 years ago

Sounds like Mike the rat has decided where the money should come from. The justice seems to be more prudent. Of course Mike the rat isn't spending his money, he is spending ours. the courts, just so he can save the state tax money. Mike is also all for communities to spend, actually exhaust their community resources to take on the task of caring for people so disabled they previously needed institutional care. Now Mike and Sam thinks those people will find jobs. If they close the institutions. Saves state tax money . Mike has decided the state can shift that burden to the local budgets. Cutting taxes for the Koch's takes a whale of a lot of sacrifices. gee with the price of oil sky high, profits at an all time high, you think some of the pressure would be off, but no, it is urgent, an emergency, we must cut Koch's income tax even more. It isn't fair that Kochee brochees are paying even a small amount , and that in unfair environmental fines. Oh, did Mike the rat help strip KDHE of it's power. Why yes he did. At least that problems has been kicked to the curb. Now their dream is get rid of the federal epa stuff. Then at last the poor Kochee broees will be free, free at last.

question4u 6 years ago

“If we’re going to be intellectually honest ..."

Well, Nuss might be, but if O'Neal is part of this "we", then good luck with that "honest" part.

pace 6 years ago

Is O'Neal suppose to be telling Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton exactly how to run the court? Is he calling Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton a liar or incompetent? What is going on?

verity 6 years ago

I always got all my work done before I left for vacation, even if it meant staying late---with no overtime pay or any other reward. It's a matter of ethics and empathy for the people who would have suffered had I not done so---you know, the work ethic, which us liberals don't have.

George Lippencott 6 years ago

Anybody have a legal reference to the requirement of the legislature to pass the budget by now? You all are condemning them. Did they do anything wrong?

If the courts have money and the supplemental is in the budget to be passed later this month this whole things sounds like a political maelstrom generated to sell newsprint and blame Republicans.

When does the Chief Justice come up again for our review? He should be apolitical

ebyrdstarr 6 years ago

So the courts should borrow against funds designated for specific purposes? Just on blind faith that the legislature will pass the appropriations the court has requested? That's not very fiscally responsible. It's certainly not a course of action I would expect a so-called fiscal conservative, as O'Neal claims to be, to promote. Except he's not just promoting it, he's acting peevish that the Chief Justice doesn't think that's a viable solution.

What happens if the legislature doesn't pass a bill granting the courts any additional funds? Or gives them funds, but only half of what the court requested? You wouldn't empty out your checking account upon applying for a loan, assuming that you would get the loan; you would wait until you knew that loan had been approved. The court shouldn't act any differently.

George Lippencott 6 years ago

Nice argument but

The shortage is $1.4M and the balance in the account that O'Neal suggests Nuss use is supposedly $3M. According to the speaker those funds are unencumbered by any legislative actions. Who is lying?

If the supplemental appropriation is not available by the end of the month Nuss can still furlough people in May and June. So waiting to see seems prudent as it is in the bills passed by both houses. Personally, I would seek employee input on how they want this to go down.

Now if I were our school district and felt I needed more money do I have a right to demand that the legislature give it to me right now or I will furlough teachers even though I have other accounts I can use to pay the teachers?? That approach sounds like we are removing the legislature from its constitutional responsibilities and substituting (in this case) the executive as the sole determiner of how much is enough. Thought that was our job through our elected legislative representatives.

This should not have gone public until the end of the month and then only if money was not provided. It is strictly political.

tomatogrower 6 years ago

O'Neal says schools have savings that they should use up too, but how many times have they had to use those savings to pay their employees, because the state hasn't sent them the money yet? Should schools use up all those funds, then when the state isn't doing their job, and are late on their payments to the school, and the employees don't get paid, then the school 's employees don't have to work? Then all the parents would have to worry about their children. Then they might vote for a legislature that does their job, instead of trying to tell others how to do their job. Then they might elect a legislature who cares about the people, instead of getting tax cuts for their rich friends.

George Lippencott 6 years ago

Yes he does and the legislature may just predicate the budget on that.

Yes they can. Since the legislature is so overwhelmingly Republican it would seem that O'Neal can pretty much do what he wants if the rank and file follow him - which they do not always do.

In most places I have lived the legislature (regardless of party) does not allow elements of the executive branch (or the courts) to build kitties to fund what they will. The legislature has that right - like it or not.

I guess if we don't like what he is doing we can try to convince the rest of the state to switch parties??!! Otherwise he is acting within his prerogatives!!

ebyrdstarr 6 years ago

That money is earmarked for other purposes. It's the source of funding for the discipline of attorneys. It pays for the program that assists impaired attorneys. And it's the money that provides money to people who suffered at the hands of lawyers.

In addition, that money is largely projections based on the expectation of attorneys paying their registration fees. We can't exactly count on attorneys all submitting their registration fees as early as May when the deadline is July 1.

And finally, that money is routinely necessary to cover the first or second payroll of the new fiscal year where there is usually a gap before the new fiscal year's general operating funds. So again, not seeing how it would be at all fiscally responsible, or conservative, to use those funds for their non-intended purposes without any certainty that they would be replenished.

Nuss started the furloughs now to make sure that there would only be one furlough day per paycheck so as to limit the impact on employees.

George Lippencott 6 years ago

That is Nuss's story. O’Neal’s is that Nuss has the authority to spend those funds in the interim until the legislature acts. If Nuss has an immediate need to discipline somebody using those funds I certainly have not heard about it. Of course he does not need those funds for payroll until at least the middle of June.

Whatever is spent the new funds should be in place by early May.

I understand the one per pay period. If I were asked I would prefer to wait until May or June and see if the money is appropriated so that I do not have to miss any days pay. I am certain the courts could balance such an effort.

You continue to avoid the fact that the requested $1.4 M should be available by early May in plenty of time to support payroll.

There is no issue until at least that time so why the fuss now?

Point is it is manufactured to try to make the Republicans look bad. They do that on their own and don't need your misrepresented points.

ebyrdstarr 6 years ago

What you continue to avoid is the fact that "should be" is very, very different from "will be." You have repeatedly pointed out that the legislative branch decides how much money the other branches get, not the other way around. (The courts, btw, are not part of the executive branch but are their own, independent 3rd branch of government known as the judiciary.)

So you say the court should borrow against funds set aside for specific purposes on the assumption that the legislature will fund the court to the level the court has requested all the while expressing consternation at the idea that the court should get to lay down the law to the legislature about how much money the court needs. You really don't get to have it both ways.

As for the discipline of attorneys, that is an ongoing process. It involves an office with more than 10 employees, 5 attorneys if I recall correctly. And it involves hearings that go on throughout the year. And investigations. There are no fewer than 7 disciplinary cases currently set for argument before the Kansas Supreme Court. This does not include any disciplinary actions that are still pending, like the ones against Phill Kline and his underlings.

Finally, the general operating funds of the entire judicial branch should not come from these funds that come exclusively from attorney registration fees. One small percentage of the population (just over 10,000 people) should not be expected to bear the burden of funding an entire branch of government that exists for all citizens of the state.

Linda Endicott 6 years ago

When has the current legislature ever passed any bill in a timely manner? How many bills are pending now? How many times before has the public had to wait and wait and wait until the legislature decided it was damn good and ready to actually work?

Why didn't they settle the matter before they went on their break, if it was such a simple little thing?

This is not O'Neal's money to spend as he is not tax comes from fees from attorneys alone for a specific purpose, and the money should be kept for that specific purpose...

Do you remember a little thing called KPERS? The money allotted for that was spent elsewhere...I'm sure the legislature at the time thought that was no big deal, either, they would only have to use a little of it before they came up with more funding...

Or a little thing called social security...another fund that was raided and never fixed...although it was a different legislature, politicians are pretty much politicians, aren't they...

O'Neal, quite frankly, just wants to cover his own butt...he's afraid that since the legislature ( probably mostly from his party) didn't fix the mess before going on vacation that the furloughs will cause people to vote for someone else next election time...

And they probably will...and O'Neal and his buddies will reap what they sow...

tomatogrower 6 years ago

O'Neal, why don't you quit telling others how to do their jobs, and start doing yours.

George Lippencott 6 years ago


He is. It appears Mr. Nuss is not!
1. there is no payroll problem until mid June 2. The money should be there by early May

What am I missing?

Why the fuss???

wastewatcher 6 years ago

O'Neal is spot on, the money is there and can be used for whatever the court wants to. It is important to note that Nuss and the Judges will not lose any pay even though they are not working.. Nuss has the mindset that says " I will take care of myself and the big money people while we screw the clerks and all of the little money people". I'm very supportve of SPEAKER O;NEAL for once again exposing the court and its selfish thinking. Where are tthe democrats on this and why aren't they speaking up for the "little people" and against the overpaid judges?

Katara 6 years ago

"Nuss said that on furlough days judges would be working in their offices and handling essential, emergency situations. Judges will not see a pay cut because under the Kansas Constitution their salaries cannot be reduced unless all state officers’ salaries are reduced."

George Lippencott 6 years ago

ebyrdstarr (anonymous) replies…

Moderate Responds:

What you continue to avoid is that we can wait until we see if the 1.4M is appropriated. No one has provided any legal requirement for the legislature to meet an arbitrary date to satisfy the courts.

IMHO Chief Justice Nuss has plenty of time to react in May and June if the legislature does not appropriate the funds. He then can use funds over which he has discretion or he can sc*** the troops.

That is what bothers me. We have two powerful men arguing about measurements and the "little people" get scr*** again.

Since the money is in both bills (each house) and the schedule suggests an appropriation by early May, I simply do not undersat6nd why this is an issue in April.

Not one of your arguments addresses that question or really satisfactorily answers why other funds available to the courts cannot be used as a last resort in late June.

Your focus should be on the court employees and the citizens of Kansas. We do not need manufactured problems - we have enough real ones! O’Neal can do nothing as it requires a vote of the House and Senate to move the conference forward. It would appear that Nuss has options – apparently ones he does not wish to use.

This whole thing sounds very political to me!!

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