After an exhaustive year-long review that resulted in a 154-page report, the Blue Ribbon Commission assigned to study the Kansas court system has come up with some common sense recommendations to make the Kansas judiciary more efficient.
Based on the report, Chief Justice Lawton Nuss asked legislators last week to consider several changes that would give the state court system greater flexibility to direct its staff and finances in a way that may reduce costs and provide better court services in the state.
Key among those recommendations was to repeal a law that requires each of the state’s 105 counties to have at least one judge. The study group concluded that the state currently has about the right number of judges but that not all of those judges are serving where they are needed most. Caseloads handled by judges across the state vary widely, leaving some judges overloaded and some underutilized. Eliminating the requirement that each county have a resident judge would allow the Supreme Court more flexibility to assign judges where they are needed, when they are needed. The commission saw no reason to consolidate judicial districts and said the clerk’s office in each court district should remain open at all times to ensure proper access to the courts.
Nuss also forwarded proposals to improve the court system’s technology to allow court documents to be filed and stored electronically. Such a move not only is a convenience but also would allow clerks in different counties to access documents and help each other when needed.
On the financial side, the commission supported legislation that would increase all court docket fees and require that all that revenue go to fund the judicial branch. At the same time, the state Supreme Court should encourage district courts to “vigorously pursue” the collection of court costs, fees and fines.
Legislators reportedly listened politely to the chief justice’s presentation Wednesday night and expressed support for the court system’s efforts to try to make the judicial branch more efficient. Perhaps the toughest issue for a number of legislators will be eliminating the one-judge-per-county rule, which will have its greatest impact on smaller, rural counties. Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, compared losing judges to closing schools, which is never a popular move.
That’s understandable, but legislators need to look at what’s best for the state as a whole. The Blue Ribbon Commission has done a commendable job of trying to make the court system more efficient without reducing services across the state. Its recommendations should get serious consideration in the current legislative session.