Kansas governor nominates Lawrence attorney as appeals court judge amid lawsuit

photo by: Contributed photo

Lawrence attorney Sarah Warner

Story updated at 12:43 p.m. Tuesday

TOPEKA — Kansas’ governor nominated a new judge Tuesday to the state’s second-highest court, despite a lawsuit over whether she has the authority to fill the vacancy after withdrawing her first nominee over his past political tweets.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly announced that she is submitting Lawrence attorney Sarah Warner’s name to the Republican-controlled state Senate for a Kansas Court of Appeals seat. However, the Senate’s top GOP leader said the chamber would not consider the nomination until the legal dispute over it is resolved by the state Supreme Court.

Kelly was forced in March to withdraw her first nominee, Labette County District Judge Jeffry Jack, because of tweets in 2017 using vulgar language and criticizing President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, contends that under a 2013 law, Kelly missed the deadline for making a proper nomination and the choice now falls to Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss. Kelly disagrees because the law allows a governor to make another choice if a nomination fails.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, has said the law is unclear. He filed a petition last week asking the Supreme Court to resolve the issue, and the high court plans to hear arguments May 9. Nuss has removed himself from hearing it.

“While Gov. Kelly may think she is above the law and does not need to follow proper statute, she is not,” Wagle said in a statement pledging to hold off on considering the appointment.

Lawmakers reconvene Wednesday after a spring break to wrap up their business for the year. Kelly and Schmidt have argued that lawmakers should clarify the appointments law, which does not specify what happens when a Court of Appeals nominee withdraws.

“I remain ready and willing to work with the Legislature to pass a simple, straightforward legislative fix, Kelly said.

Warner, 39, worked for Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Davis for several years before joining Lawrence law firm Thompson Warner, P.A. in 2009 and becoming a partner in 2014. While with that firm, she helped Kansas defend special health and safety regulations for abortion providers that have on hold since 2011 because of a lawsuit.

She is the current president of the Kansas Bar Association and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and her law degree from Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Warner also was one of the attorneys representing the state in the case in which the Supreme Court ruled last week that the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights.

Kelly called Warner “one of the brightest lawyers in our state” and said Warner has “a wealth of experience and energy.”


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