Kansas municipal courts to undergo scrutiny; Lawrence judge on committee

Lawrence Municipal Court building, 1006 New Hampshire St.

Judge Scott Miller of the Lawrence Municipal Court will serve on a committee that will review the operation of municipal courts throughout the state, including their policies on setting bonds, fines and fees.

Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss announced the committee’s membership Monday after signing an order Sept. 8 to establish the panel.

Nuss said the review comes at a time when municipal courts around the country are coming under criticism, especially in response to racial tension in Ferguson, Mo., in 2015, for using bonds, fines and fees as a source of revenue rather than as a means to ensure that defendants show up in court.

“The Supreme Court wants to ensure that the rule of law remains paramount in the Kansas system of justice,” Nuss said in a press release. “The important work of this committee should be of great help in not only maintaining fair and impartial courts for all but also recommending improvements where needed.”

The Kansas Supreme Court has constitutional authority to supervise all lower courts in the state, including municipal courts, although city governments are responsible for setting up the courts and hiring judges.

Municipal courts generally deal with traffic citations and misdemeanor criminal offenses committed within a city.

Miller was not immediately available for comment Monday. A former prosecutor and a former staff attorney in the city’s legal department, he has served as municipal judge in Lawrence since 2011.

The panel is expected to review municipal court practices in Kansas, as well as in other states, and issue a report within a year that will include recommendations for best practices.

That report will be delivered to the Supreme Court’s Office of Judicial Administration as well as the League of Kansas Municipalities.

Judge Amie Bauer, a municipal judge for Canton and Moundridge and current president of the Kansas Municipal Judges Association, said she believes it is important for courts to undergo evaluation.

“By evaluating current practices and procedures across the state and developing some best practices, all Kansans will benefit, considering they are directly or indirectly affected by the judicial system in one way or another,” she said.