Archive for Wednesday, September 6, 2000

Voters will decide whether to elect judges in district

September 6, 2000

Voters in Leavenworth and Atchison counties will face a judicial question in November.

The question: Should district judges be elected in the First Judicial District, which encompasses the two counties.

Presently, nominees for judges are selected by a nonpartisan commission. That panel submits up to three finalists to the governor, who makes the final decision.

Two Leavenworth County lawyers County Attorney Frank Kohl and a part-time assistant county attorney, Mike Gibbens submitted a petition to place the question on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The two men maintain that although the selection process is designed to prevent politics from entering the judicial process, that's not happening in Leavenworth and Atchison counties. If the counties' voters get involved, Kohl and Gibbens believe it will bring the politics out of the closet. Both men have been nominees for judgeships but neither has been selected. They say that although Atchison County has fewer residents, it has equal representation on the selection committee. That, the attorneys say, puts Leavenworth County at a disadvantage.

"You don't have a closed game, where powerbrokers can, behind the scenes, pull the strings to accomplish what they want to accomplish," said Kohl.

Another attorney, John Tillotson, counters the allegations by Kohl and Gibbens, saying opening the selection process to voters would politicize a process that's above politics.

"Can you imagine an election system where business groups, law firms and other special interest groups fill the campaign coffers of political candidates for judge," Tillotson said. "What public confidence would there be in such a system?"

If Leavenworth and Atchison county voters decide they want the power to elect district judges, they would join 53 other Kansas counties that do so. Shawnee County voters also will be asked in November to approve election of district judges, according to the state's judicial administration office.

Gibbens said he wants Leavenworth County to have its own judicial district and its own state Senate district. Gibbens is a Democratic candidate for the state Senate. Four of the six district judges live in Atchison County.

"They've got better ties to Governor Graves than we do," Gibbens said.

Both Kohl and Gibbens, however, said they have no complaints with the existing judges.

"I don't have any reason to question the integrity of the judges who currently are in place," said Kohl.

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