Topeka judge named to top court

? Shawnee County District Judge Eric Rosen, who ruled for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in an open meetings lawsuit before she took office, is her newest appointee to the Kansas Supreme Court.

“Judge Rosen has shown a commitment to fairness and a true respect for the law,” Sebelius told reporters Friday. “I’m impressed with his sincerity, his compassion and his strong belief that we are all equal before the law.”

Rosen, 52, joins the seven-member court with a wide range of experience – lawyer in private practice, public defender, prosecutor and trial judge since 1993 – and is held in high regard by the judicial community.

The judge said his diverse experience was an asset as a trial judge and will be something he brings to the high court. Rosen also said he could “set my ego aside when we are deciding important cases.”

Asked to describe his judicial style, Rosen said, “I have always been very deliberate, clear and concise in my decisions and never tried to have my own opinions expressed in my decisions.”

No date has been set for his swearing in; the court next hears cases the week of Sept. 5. Voters will decide in November 2006 whether to keep him on the court for a full six-year term.

Newly appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court, Topekan Eric Rosen, of the Shawnee County District Court, takes questions Friday from reporters alongside Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, left, and his wife, Libby Rosen, right.

This is the governor’s second appointment to the court. In July 2003, she appointed Justice Carol Beier. Rosen replaces Justice Robert Gernon, 61, who died in March.

In 2003, Rosen ruled in favor of Sebelius in a lawsuit filed by The Associated Press and several news organizations over open meetings. He ruled the advisory groups Sebelius formed before taking office weren’t required to hold open meetings until after her inauguration. His ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeals.

But he also scolded Sebelius for allowing those closed meetings.

“The time has long passed that critical public policy decisions can be formulated and based on privately held discussions and secret meetings that hold no one accountable,” he wrote.

Sebelius said they didn’t discuss that case during Rosen’s interview.

Topeka attorney Mike Merriam, who represented the news organizations, said Rosen gave the case “serious attention.”

“He’s a very commonsense kind of guy,” Merriam said. “He’s devoted to the cases that he works on. He is conscientious and he’s not prone to making snap judgments or unreasoned opinion.”

Rosen’s appointment also was praised by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Vratil, who served with the judge on the Kansas Sentencing Commission.

“I am really excited about that,” said Vratil, R-Leawood. “I think he will make an excellent Supreme Court justice. I’m very impressed not only with his intelligence, but his sense of fairness.”

In June, the court ordered the Legislature to come up with an additional $143 million for education. That forced lawmakers into a 12-day special session during which they found another $148 million.

Conservative Republicans complained loudly about an “activist court” and crossing the separation of powers line, but they failed to send voters a proposed constitutional amendment to rein in the court. The issue likely will resurface during the regular session next year.

Eric Rosen

Age – 52; Born May 25, 1953.

Education – Bachelor’s degree, Kansas University, 1975; master’s degree, KU, 1976; law degree, Washburn University, 1984.

Career -Served as Shawnee County District Court judge from 1993 to present. Was in private practice from 1990 to 1993. Served as assistant district attorney and later associate general counsel to the Kansas Securities Commission. Was an assistant public defender upon graduating from law school.

Family – Wife, Libby; four sons, Paul, Jacob, Mark and Tom; three grandchildren.

They also have bemoaned that the process of picking a justice gives the governor too much power in shaping the court, and that justices should be subject to Senate confirmation or elected by voters.

Rosen declined to weigh in on the conflict other than to say, “Whatever form that debates take, my only comment I have is that I hope it’s done with the spirit of high-mindedness and mutual respect for all branches of government.”

As is done in many other states, a nominating commission interviews candidates and submits a list of prospective candidates from which the governor picks. If the governor fails to act, the chief justice makes the selection.

Rosen was among three finalists. The others were Douglas County District Court Judge Robert W. Fairchild and Lawrence attorney Martha J. Coffman.