Appiontment, election of district judges debated
Leavenworth — The debate of whether to continue to appoint district judges or have them elected by voters went back and forth Monday at the Riverfront Community Center.
The issue is on the ballot for the Nov. 2 general election 10 years after it failed by 110 votes in the 2000 election.
At Monday’s forum, led by moderator Ernest Evans, political science professor at Kansas City Kansas Community College, the topic was at center stage once again.
Donna Gillett, Leavenworth, spoke on behalf of the group Take Back Our Courts, which favors having judges be elected. Christopher Tucker, Lansing, spoke on behalf of Citizens for Impartial Courts, which wants district judges to continue to be appointed by a panel that consists of nine people — four lawyers, four non-lawyers and a ninth person, a lawyer who serves as a moderator. They determine whom to nominate for appointment, a decision that the governor then makes.
Gillett said that it’s time to elect judges, noting that in the 2000 election in Leavenworth County, more voters wanted judges to be elected, but more voters in the other county in the district, Atchison County, voted to stay with the appointment system.
“Here in America, the judiciary is completely out of control,” Gillett said. “They don’t look at the Constitution. They don’t look at the law. They legislate from the bench. Don’t you think we need some increased electoral control of our judges?”
Tucker said “activist judges” were the current buzz words in America. He said activist judges were not good for the judicial system, but then noted judges at the district level don’t rule on school finance, the death penalty, abortion or other cases of that nature. As for maximum sentences, district judges are bound by maximum sentences set forth by legislation. If citizens aren’t pleased with maximum sentencing, he said that is something that should be taken up with legislators.
Tucker encouraged voters to go to the group’s website, courtsnotforsale.org. Gillett said more from her point of view could be found at her group’s site, takebackourcourts.com.
Leavenworth County Commission race
One thing is clear with the outcome of the race for Leavenworth County Commission in District 1 — the new commissioner likely won’t be lobbying to hire a new county administrator.
Democrat Tim Goetz and Republican Bob Holland fielded questions during the first hour of Monday’s forum. Both were adamant about their views of whether to fill the position of county administrator following the resignation earlier this month of Heather Morgan.
“I would not support a county administrator at this time,” Holland said during opening remarks. “We’ve had it voted down twice. Why do we want to continue on something citizens say no to?”
Goetz agreed and, as a former county employee, said department heads always had monthly meetings and communicated well.
He also said he “doesn’t doubt there are inefficiencies” within the county.
“Let’s see whether we can solve them internally,” Goetz said.
Holland went on to say that if county commissioners are doing their jobs and putting in hours of a full-time job, a county administrator shouldn’t be necessary.
The candidates also fielded questions from Evans about the economy, funding Alliance Against Family Violence, homelessness, reducing the tax burden on residents and reducing government waste.
Asked from what specific areas they would cut back, Goetz said he would look at operational expenses, not hiring a county administrator and looking at cuts at the Transfer Station.
Holland said strategic planning was needed in trimming government fat.
The first district is northern-most district in Leavenworth County.
Evans will have a second forum from 7-9 p.m. today at the Riverfront Community Center and will feature candidates for various local state representative races. Included in the forum will be state Rep. Connie O’Brien, R-Tonganoxie, and her challenger, Democrat Jim Pittman, Lansing.