Kansas judges, lawyers strongly back 4 high court justices, not including Brownback appointee

TOPEKA — Judges and lawyers are broadly endorsing that four Kansas Supreme Court justices be retained come November, but giving only lukewarm support for the lone justice picked by Gov. Sam Brownback.

The nonpartisan Judicial Evaluation Committee released performance assessments for state Supreme Court justices and Kansas Court of Appeals judges. More than 11,000 people received the survey, but participants were asked to evaluate only judges or justices they had appeared before or worked with, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Of the more than 1,200 responses, at least 74 percent of lawyers and 75 percent of judges “strongly” recommended retaining Supreme Court justices Lawton Nuss, Marla Luckert, Carol Beier and Dan Biles. The first two were appointed by former Republican Gov. Bill Graves and the latter by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Justice Caleb Stegall, who was appointed in 2014 by Brownback, was strongly supported for retention by 39 percent of lawyers and 54 percent of judges. On the flip side, 31 percent of lawyers and 7 percent of judges felt strongly he should be voted off the bench.

The results were released ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, when Kansas residents have the option to renew the judicial appointments or oust judges.

“Our democracy works best when voters can make informed decisions,” evaluation committee chairwoman Gloria Farha Flentje said. “Without such a review, voters have little or no information on which to cast an informed ballot.”

Luckert received the strongest support, backed by 81 percent of lawyers and 88 percent of judges. Nuss was strongly supported by 78 percent of lawyers and 81 percent of lawyers; Beier’s numbers were 74 percent and 77 percent, while Biles drew 77 percent and 75 percent.

Among six Court of Appeals judges on the ballot for retention votes, Brownback’s appointees, Judges Kathryn Gardner and David Bruns, fared better in the survey than Stegall. Gardner, named by Brownback in 2015, received the lowest marks as 65 percent of lawyers and 79 percent of judges said they strongly support her retention. Judge David Bruns, appointed in 2011, was favored by 79 percent of lawyers and 87 percent of judges.

Of former Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson’s selections, Judge Karen Arnold-Burger was endorsed by 82 percent of lawyers and 84 percent of judges, while Judge Gordon Atcheson was supported by 76 percent of lawyers and 70 percent of judges.

Judge Steve Leben, picked by Sebelius, had the backing of 78 percent of judges and 84 percent of lawyers. Judge Joseph Pierron, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Mike Hayden, received support from 83 percent of judges and lawyers.