TOPEKA, Kan. (CN) - A Kansas judge sued the state, claiming Gov. Sam Brownback signed a law that unconstitutionally weakens the Kansas Supreme Court's authority over local courts, in violation of the separation of powers doctrine.
Larry T. Solomon, chief judge of the 30th Judicial District in Kansas, sued the state on Wednesday in Shawnee County Court. He seeks declaratory judgment that House Bill 2338 , an appropriations bill, is unconstitutional.
The Kansas Constitution was amended in 1972 to explicitly give the Kansas Supreme Court "general administrative authority over all courts in the state," according to the lawsuit.
Brownback signed House Bill 2338 into law in June 2014, weeks after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state had violated the Kansas Constitution by inadequately funding public schools, and ordered lawmakers to plug the funding gap.
The state had argued during the lawsuit that the court lacked authority to decide the matter because it was a political issue.
But Judge Solomon says in his lawsuit that Section 11 of H.B. 2338 is a "direct encroachment" on the Kansas Supreme Court's authority, because it takes away that court's authority to appoint a chief judge in each judicial district and allows district court judges in each district to elect a chief judge.
H.B. 2338 also shifted some power from the Kansas Supreme Court to district courts, giving chief judges of individual district courts authority on budget decisions.
The chief justice will still decide how much funding goes to each district court but will have little power in decisions on how that money is spent, under H.B. 2338.
The Supreme Court of Kansas denounced Brownback's signing of House Bill 2338 in a statement in April 2014.
"The Supreme Court of Kansas has strongly opposed this bill since its creation. We are troubled now that it has been signed by the governor," the court said.
"It weakens the centralized authority of the Kansas unified court system in exchange for money to pay our employees and keep courts open. And the money it provides still may fall short of even doing that.
"This is a poor trade. We have very serious concerns about what will happen to the administration of justice in Kansas. We believe Kansans deserve better."
Solomon says in his lawsuit: "When the Supreme Court chooses to exercise that authority with respect to a particular aspect of judicial administration, the Kansas Legislature is constitutionally proscribed from enacting any law that is in direct conflict with the Supreme Court's exercise of authority."
Solomon's attorney Pedro Irigonegaray told The Topeka Capital Journal: "What makes our democracy work is when the three branches (executive, legislative and judicial) respect each other.
"The most important aspect of this litigation is that the current law signed by Gov. Sam Brownback last spring removes the Kansas Supreme Court's authority regarding the selection of chief judges. We believe that is an unlawful intrusion into the Supreme Court's authority."
Solomon seeks declaratory judgment that Section 11 of H.B. 2338 is unconstitutional, violates the separation-of-powers doctrine and is invalid in its entirety.
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