Kansas Judge Cries Foul in Court Power Grab

     TOPEKA, Kan. (CN) – A Shawnee County judge has asked a state court to strike down a law passed by the Kansas Legislature last year that stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its authority over Kansas district courts.
     District Judge Larry T. Solomon on Wednesday filed a brief in District Court of Shawnee County for a summary judgment on a lawsuit he filed against the state in February challenging HB 2338, an appropriations bill, as unconstitutional, a violation of Kansas’s separation-of-powers doctrine and a “transparent attempt at judicial intimidation.”
     Solomon claimed in the original petition that the bill, which takes away the Kansas Supreme Court’s authority to appoint a chief judge in each judicial district and instead allows district court judges to elect the chief judge for their district, is a direct encroachment on the Kansas Supreme Court’s authority.
     HB 2338 also shifted some of the power to make budget decisions from the state’s Supreme Court to individual district courts.
     Gov. Sam Brownback signed House Bill 2338 into law in June 2014, just weeks after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state had violated the Kansas Constitution by inadequately funding public schools. The state had argued in that lawsuit that the court lacked authority to decide the matter because it was a political issue.
     Then last month, Brownback signed into law a controversial budgeting bill, HB 2005,which contains the stipulation that if any court strikes down that 2014 law shifting power from the Kansas Supreme Court to district courts, the entire judiciary budget outlined in that bill would be “null and void and shall have no force and effect.”
     That stipulation means that if the court rules in Solomon’s favor and declares a section of HB 2338 unconstitutional, the Kansas judiciary will lose its entire 2016 and 2017 budgets.
     HB 2005 is “an inappropriate attempt to intimidate a judge” by making it clear that should the judge rule in Solomon’s favor, the state’s judicial budget for 2016 and 2017 will be made null and void, said Pedro Irigonegaray, one of the attorneys representing Solomon.
     “It is inconceivable to me why such recklessness has evolved into law in our state,” Irigonegaray told Courthouse News, adding that the governor’s and Legislature’s actions demonstrate that they put personal opinions ahead of the law.
     “That is a dangerous thing for any public servant to participate in,” he said.
     If the judge rules in Solomon’s favor, Irigonegaray said he is prepared to file an injunction to prevent the “draconian consequences” that making the judiciary budget null and void would create.
     “What’s so striking to me about this entire process is that it did not occur accidentally,” he said. “This process was created specifically by the Legislature and governor to create a constitutional crisis.”

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