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  • 06 Aug 2020 1:45 PM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

    Chief justice announces changes in Supreme Court staff

     

    Chief Justice Marla Luckert announced changes in job duties for four Supreme Court staff.

    General counsel

    Ashley Jarmer is named general counsel to the chief justice.

    She has been a research attorney for the chief justice since August 2019. She previously was a research attorney for Supreme Court Justice Lee Johnson and Court of Appeals Chief Judge Richard Greene.

    Jarmer is a native of Cimarron. She graduated summa cum laude from Kansas State University and received her law degree from William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she was president of the Honor Council.

    Jarmer previously worked for the Kansas Department of Transportation Office of Chief Counsel as a personnel attorney.

    Director of Supreme Court appeals

    Sarah Reichert is named director of Supreme Court appeals.

    She will report directly to and assist the chief justice in the management of the Supreme Court docket and processing of cases. She will supervise the court’s central research staff that is charged with researching and preparing memoranda for the court on death penalty appeals, original actions, petitions for review, motions, and special projects.

    Reichert is a native of Mankato. She graduated cum laude from both Kansas State University and Washburn University School of Law.

    Reichert clerked in the Kansas Court of Appeals for two years before joining the Supreme Court's staff in 2006. She has served in the court's central staff, as a research attorney for Justice Luckert, as the court's motions attorney, and as assistant general counsel to the chief justice. She chairs the Supreme Court Rules Committee.

    The positions filled by Jarmer and Reichert have been vacant for several months.

    Deputy special counsel

    Sarah Hoskinson, deputy special counsel to the chief justice, will have expanded duties assisting with special projects and committees.

    She has been deputy special counsel to the chief justice since 2017 and works to organize and develop the Kansas judicial branch's legislative program. She previously was a staff attorney for the Office of Judicial Administration.

    She will continue to work with Shawn Jurgensen, who is special counsel to the chief justice.

    Hoskinson is a native of Burrton. She graduated from the University of Kansas with highest distinction and the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

    Hoskinson also has worked as an attorney for the City of Manhattan, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Bar Association of San Francisco's Homeless Advocacy Project. She completed three years of national service in AmeriCorps VISTA and Equal Justice Works programs.

    Research attorney

    Jonathan Ruhlen will fill the chief's staff as research attorney II.

    He was a research attorney for Justice Johnson from 2016 to 2019, when he joined the chief justice's staff.

    Ruhlen is a native of Valley Falls. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2005 and worked as a reporter for various daily newspapers in Kansas. He graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law in 2012.

    Ruhlen worked in bankruptcy law, including a clerkship with now-retired Judge Janice Miller Karlin, chief of the Bankruptcy Court of the District of Kansas and chief of the 10th Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel.


  • 05 Aug 2020 8:59 AM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

    Supreme Court issues administrative orders, guidance for courts to safely resume jury trials

     

    The Kansas Supreme Court today issued two administrative orders and a mandates and guidance document to give direction to courts as they prepare to safely resume jury trials.

    The orders and the guidance document incorporate best practices recommended in the report Resuming Trials Amid COVID-19 the Supreme Court received last week from the Ad Hoc Jury Task Force.

    “At the beginning of the pandemic, we canceled jury trials to comply with statewide efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Chief Justice Marla Luckert. “Since then, through innovation and access to videoconferencing technology, state courts have resumed hearing most cases with the exception of jury trials.”

     

    The Supreme Court created the Ad Hoc Jury Task Force in early June specifically to recommend best practices courts will follow to protect the health of jurors and other courtroom participants so jury trials can resume.

    "I speak for the entire court when I say I am grateful for the time task force members devoted to this project and for the speed at which they produced their report," Luckert said.

    The Supreme Court Mandates and Guidance Regarding Resuming Jury Proceedings spells out the Supreme Court’s requirements for courts based on recommendations made in the report from the Ad Hoc Jury Task Force.

    “Many variables impact which task force recommendations a court will need to adopt, including the physical layout of the court, local needs, and available resources,” Luckert said. “The mandates and guidance document articulates the Supreme Court’s expectations to provide for juror education and safety, and public and media access to proceedings.”

    Administrative Order 2020-PR-093 requires each judicial district to submit a plan for resuming jury trials to the Office of Judicial Administration, which will review the plans to verify that the Supreme Court’s mandates are met.

    Administrative Order 2020-PR-094 extends the requirement that masks or facial coverings be worn in all court offices and courtrooms to any outdoor court proceedings.

    The report Resuming Trials Amid COVID-19 from the Ad Hoc Jury Task Force includes recommendations on these key topics:

    • adding numerous safeguards to protect jurors;

    • communicating with jurors pretrial and during orientation;

    • securing adequate jury pools;

    • using pretrial measures to minimize the length of jury service;

    • conducting a fair trial while protecting juror and court participant safety; and

    • best practices for virtual trials.

    In its report, the task force acknowledged there is no single approach and that the state's 31 judicial districts are vastly different in terms of facilities, technology, and resources.


  • 04 Aug 2020 9:31 AM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

    Chief Justice Marla Luckert said today she will not reinstate statutes of limitation and statutory time standards or deadlines that apply to conducting or processing of judicial proceedings on August 17.

    Luckert had announced June 29 she planned to reinstate most time requirements effective August 3, based on the assumption that all district courts would be providing in-person service at that time.

    Due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in some jurisdictions, some courts closed offices to the public after Luckert's June 29 announcement. In response, Luckert adjusted her timeline and announced she would provide an update today about a projected date to reinstate some time limits, deadlines, and time standards. She also said that the reinstatement would not occur before August 17.

    As of today, some court offices remain closed to the public. Luckert will continue to monitor the situation and will provide at least two weeks' notice before reinstating any deadlines.

    “All district courts are now able to process cases remotely, but I need to be sure all courts can also provide some level of in-person service before I reinstate timelines and deadlines,” Luckert said.

    The Kansas Supreme Court is seeking grant funding to develop alternative methods to deliver services to the people of Kansas so deadlines can be reinstated without fear someone will be unable to access the courts and lose the ability to protect a constitutional right or to prosecute a cause of action.

    Luckert said she will provide periodic updates because she wants Kansans and their attorneys to have adequate notice of her plan to reinstate statutes of limitation and statutory time standards or deadlines. Once reinstated, courts, attorneys, and self-represented parties must be ready to move cases forward or accept consequences for missing deadlines or statutes of limitations, which can cause cases to be dismissed.

    Luckert plans to continue the suspension of some time limitations. Those would include statutory speedy trial deadlines in criminal cases, the time requirements for filing actions under K.S.A. 60-1501 and K.S.A. 60-1507, and the time requirements for processing limited actions cases in K.S.A. 61-3002(b).

    Even while statutes of limitation and statutory time standards or deadlines have been suspended, courts have continued to process cases. All state courts are conducting many types of proceedings using teleconferencing technology, greatly reducing the need for in-person hearings.

  • 03 Aug 2020 10:25 AM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

    Keynen "KJ" Wall Jr., Lawrence, will be sworn in as a justice of the Kansas Supreme Court in a private ceremony at 11 a.m. today, August 3, at the Kansas Judicial Center.

    Chief Justice Marla Luckert will preside at the ceremony, which will be broadcast live on the Supreme Court YouTube channel.

    The ceremony will be considerably smaller than a typical swearing-in due to the need to allow for physical distancing. Wall's immediate family will attend the ceremony, as will Supreme Court Justices Eric Rosen and Evelyn Wilson. Assistant Secretary of State Catherine Gunsalus also will attend to present the certificate of appointment.

    Justices usually are sworn in in the Kansas Supreme Court courtroom filled with current and past Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges, federal judges, district court judges, members of the legislative and executive branches, law related organizations, and the justice's family members and friends. An overflow audience would view a livestream of the event in a secondary courtroom.

    Governor Laura Kelly appointed Wall in March to fill a vacancy on the court created when former Chief Justice Lawton Nuss retired in December.

    Wall has a bachelor's degree in communication from Kansas State University, a master's degree in scientific and technical communication from the University of Minnesota, and a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law.

    He had been in private practice with the Forbes Law Group of Overland Park since 2015. From 2013 to 2015 he was special projects counsel to the Supreme Court, which involved managing the court's capital appeals office. From 2008 to 2013 he was senior legal counsel for Federated Insurance in Owatonna, Minnesota, and from 2004 to 2008, he was an associate attorney with a law firm in Greeley, Colorado. He was a judicial law clerk from 2002 to 2004 for Judge John Lungstrum, when Lungstrum was chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.


  • 27 Jul 2020 10:12 AM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

    The Kansas Supreme Court issued the following published decisions on July 24, 2020

    Appeal No. 115,650: John Balbirnie vs. State of Kansas

    Archived oral argument 

    The Supreme Court reversed Balbirnie's Franklin County jury conviction for second-degree murder and remanded the case to the district court for a new trial. The Supreme Court held Balbirnie, who has consistently and repeatedly maintained his innocence, was entitled to a new trial because his appointed trial counsel ineffectively represented him by failing to admit into evidence a recording of a 911 call made while the fight leading to the victim's death was ongoing. During the 911 call, the caller said another person—the caller's fiancé—stabbed the victim. The omission of this call undermined confidence in the outcome of the trial as the evidence supporting the verdict conflicted, the 911 call underscored questions about the credibility of those who attributed the fatal stab wound to Balbirnie, and the other evidence presented at trial did not remove the potential for reasonable doubt about Balbirnie's guilt.

    Appeal No. 115,990: State of Kansas vs. Robbie A. Thomas

    Archived oral argument

    The Supreme Court held the cumulative effect of multiple errors during a Chautauqua County jury trial required reversal of the defendant's conviction for aggravated battery but affirmed his convictions for child abuse and aggravated endangering of a child. The Supreme Court found the State failed to prove there was no reasonable probability a jury instruction that misstated the law regarding aggravated battery, combined with a prosecutor's improper statements during closing, did not affect the jury's verdict for the aggravated battery charge. The court also remanded for resentencing after finding the defendant's criminal history score was incorrect due to a misclassification of a prior Virginia conviction.

    Appeal No. 119,739: State of Kansas vs. De'Angelo Megle Martinez 

    Archived oral argument

    The Supreme Court affirmed the defendant's murder conviction in Shawnee County after finding a prosecutor's statements did not impermissibly shift the burden of proof to the defendant, nor did the statements infringe on the defendant's constitutional protection against self-incrimination. During closing arguments, the State responded to the defense counsel's attack on the credibility of witnesses by pointing out the State had presented evidence, whereas the defense theory was based on speculation. The court held that, when viewed in context, the comments were a fair comment on the evidence presented and did not impermissibly shift the burden of proof to the defendant nor did they amount to a comment on the defendant's decision not to testify.  

    Kansas Court of Appeals decisions released today


  • 27 Jul 2020 10:06 AM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

    Chief justice gives update on plan to reinstate time limitations and deadlines for court proceedings

     

    Chief Justice Marla Luckert said today she has adjusted her plan to reinstate statutes of limitation and statutory time standards or deadlines that apply to conducting or processing of judicial proceedings.

    Luckert had announced June 29 she planned to reinstate most time requirements effective August 3, based on the assumption that all district courts would be providing in-person service at that time.

    Due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in some jurisdictions, some courts have closed offices to the public. In response, Luckert is adjusting her timeline and now plans to provide an update on August 3 about a projected date to reinstate some time limits, deadlines, and time standards. She emphasized reinstatement will not be before August 17.

    “My actions to suspend some deadlines and time limitations at the beginning of the pandemic were to uphold peoples’ legal and constitutional rights while courts made changes to case processing to adhere to public health guidelines,” Luckert said. “All district courts are now able to process cases remotely, but I need to be sure all courts can also provide some level of in-person service before I reinstate timelines and deadlines.”

    Luckert said she’s providing this update because she wants to be sure Kansans and their attorneys have adequate notice of her plan to reinstate statutes of limitation and statutory time standards or deadlines. Once reinstated, courts, attorneys, and self-represented parties must be ready to move cases forward or accept consequences for missing deadlines or statutes of limitations, which can cause cases to be dismissed.

    Luckert plans to continue the suspension of some time limitations. Those would include statutory speedy trial deadlines in criminal cases, the time requirements for filing actions under K.S.A. 60-1501 and K.S.A. 60-1507, and the time requirements for processing limited actions cases in K.S.A. 61-3002(b).

    Even while statutes of limitation and statutory time standards or deadlines have been suspended, courts have continued to process cases. All state courts are conducting many types of proceedings using teleconferencing technology, greatly reducing the need for in-person hearings.

    __________________________

    Visit Kansas Courts Reponse to COVID-19 for information about court operations during the pandemic. 


  • 27 Jul 2020 9:56 AM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

    The Supreme Court Nominating Commission is accepting nominees for a vacancy on the Kansas Supreme Court created by Justice Carol Beier's September 18 retirement.

    Beier's retirement triggers a merit-based nomination process that Kansans voted to add to the Kansas Constitution in 1958. The process involves the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, which reviews nominees, and the governor, who makes the appointments.  

    Application process

    Applications must be received by the clerk of the appellate courts' office by noon, September 2, and be on the application form from the judicial branch website or from the clerk of the appellate courts office in the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka.

    Douglas T. Shima
    Clerk of the Appellate Courts
    Kansas Judicial Center
    301 SW 10th Ave., Room 107
    Topeka KS 66612-1507

    Merit-based selection process

    When there is a vacancy on the court, the Supreme Court Nominating Commission reviews applications and conducts public interviews of nominees. The commission narrows the nominee pool to three names that it sends to the governor. The governor chooses one nominee to appoint.

    The nominating commission will announce when it will convene to interview applicants. Interviews are open to the public.

    Nominating commission

    The Supreme Court Nominating Commission has nine members. There is one lawyer and one nonlawyer from each of the state’s four congressional districts, plus one lawyer who serves as chairperson.

    Nonlawyers are appointed by the governor. Lawyers are elected by other lawyers within their congressional districts. The chairperson is elected by lawyers statewide.

    The commission has two new members. Lawyers in the 3rd Congressional District elected Katie McClaflin of Overland Park, and Governor Laura Kelly appointed Carol Marinovich of Kansas City, Kansas.

    Eligibility requirements

    A nominee for justice must be:

    • at least 30 years old; and

    • a lawyer admitted to practice in Kansas and engaged in the practice of law for at least 10 years, whether as a lawyer, judge, or full-time teacher at an accredited law school.

    Selection criteria

    When the Supreme Court Nominating Commission reviews nominees for justice, they look at the person’s:

    • legal and judicial experience;
    • educational background;
    • character and ethics;
    • temperament;
    • service to the community;
    • impartiality; and
    • respect of colleagues.

    Judicial conduct

    Justices must follow the law and not be influenced by politics, special interest groups, public opinion, or their own personal beliefs.

    Justices demonstrate their accountability by following a Code of Judicial Conduct that establishes standards of ethical behavior. They also take an oath of office that includes swearing to support, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution and Kansas Constitution.

    Retention elections

    After a new justice serves one year on the court, he or she must stand for a retention vote in the next general election to remain in the position. If retained, the justice serves a six-year term.


  • 17 Jul 2020 1:57 PM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)


    The Kansas Supreme Court issued the following published decisions July 17, 2020

    Appeal No. 119,359: State of Kansas vs. Billy J. Hill 

    Summary calendar; no oral argument

    Hill is serving a hard-25 life sentence after pleading no contest to murder and other charges in 2000 in Osage County District Court. The Supreme Court held he failed to establish excusable neglect required by law in order to withdraw his plea outside the one-year statute of limitations.

    Appeal No. 120,600: State of Kansas vs. Jerome Edwards 

    Summary calendar; no oral argument

    The Supreme Court affirmed a Shawnee County district judge's denial of Edwards' request for a new trial on the basis of post-conviction DNA testing. Edwards was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder for the 1996 shooting death of Donnie Smart. Seventeen years after Edwards' conviction, his request for post-conviction DNA testing of evidence was granted. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and a private laboratory both tested the evidence. No DNA conclusively put Edwards at the scene, but some samples were not of sufficient quality to identify the individual who left the sample. Edwards unsuccessfully requested a new trial on the basis of the DNA results. The Supreme Court held the district judge did not abuse her discretion by denying his request. Because of the strong non-DNA evidence against Edwards, the district judge reasonably concluded there was no reasonable probability the DNA evidence would have changed the original trial's outcome.

    Kansas Court of Appeals decisions released today


  • 17 Jul 2020 1:44 PM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

    The Kansas Supreme Court issued the following published decisions July 17, 2020

    Appeal No. 116,515: State of Kansas v. Christopher M. Harris

    Archived oral argument 

    Harris was convicted in Sedgwick County District Court of criminal possession of a weapon for carrying a pocketknife. Under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-6304, it is a crime for a convicted felon to possess a knife. The statute defines knife as "a dagger, dirk, switchblade, stiletto, straight-edged razor or any other dangerous or deadly cutting instrument of like character." In an opinion written by Justice Caleb Stegall, the Supreme Court held the residual clause "or any other dangerous or deadly cutting instrument of like character" in K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-6304 is unconstitutionally vague because it fails to provide an explicit and objective standard of enforcement. This lack of an explicit and objective standard of enforcement impermissibly delegated legislative power to the executive and judicial branches. Thus, the court reversed Harris' conviction and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the charge of criminal possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. Justices Dan Biles and Eric Rosen and Court of Appeals Judge Henry Green Jr. dissented, concluding that K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-6304 is not unconstitutionally vague on its face or as applied to Harris and would remand to the district court for a new trial so Harris could pursue his mistake-of-law defense.

    Appeal No. 116,670: State of Kansas vs. John Christopher Harrison

    Archived oral argument

    The Supreme Court affirmed Harrison's convictions of various crimes resulting from a traffic stop and physical encounter with police. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Dan Biles, the Supreme Court rejected Harrison's claim that Johnson County District Court erred when it responded to a jury question by having court staff deliver a written note to the jury room rather than convening in open court and answering the question in Harrison's presence. The Supreme Court reasoned Kansas statute expressly authorizes this delivery, and the federal constitution does not prohibit it.

    Appeal No. 116,810: State of Kansas v. Amber E. Burden

    Archived oral argument 

    Burden represented herself at trial and was convicted by a jury. On appeal she argued Sumner County District Court should not have allowed her to proceed pro se. The Supreme Court held the district court was not required to appoint counsel for a defendant who wished to exercise her constitutional right to self-representation when there was no evidence of severe mental illness.


  • 10 Jul 2020 2:23 PM | Amanda Kohlman (Administrator)

    Judicial branch awarded $1.6 million grant to help ensure Kansans' access to justice

     

    The Kansas judicial branch was awarded $1.6 million from the state's Federal Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program to help pay for technology improvements that will provide broader digital access to justice and allow courts to conduct more operations remotely.

    The grant will help pay for:

    • remote technology equipment and software, including mobile hot spots, cell phones and service plans, laptop and tablet computers, computer accessories, webcams, printers, and software;

    • videoconferencing and virtual private network licenses;

    • a new web portal to allow people to seek protection orders without visiting a courthouse;

    • public access computer terminals to allow self-represented litigants access to virtual court proceedings; and

    • a centralized email system to allow the secure transmission of court-related documents, data, and messages.

    "The grant comes at a critical time, and it will help us accelerate modernizing Kansas courts," said Chief Justice Marla Luckert. "We’ve been working to digitize and centralize case processing the last several years, often with limited resources. Despite our progress, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly showed us how much more needs to be done."

    The judicial branch mandates electronic filing for attorneys and is implementing a statewide centralized case management system that will be used by all state courts. But until recently nearly all court proceedings and services still required in-person meetings.

    The pandemic forced courts to respond quickly. The immediate challenge was shifting to virtual court proceedings and equipping court staff to work remotely. Lack of technology was one challenge. Judges and court staff also had to develop new remote processes that met statutory and constitutional requirements and then help attorneys, parties, and the public adapt to them.

    Court resources vary widely among the state's 105 counties. The state pays for judicial branch salaries, but operating costs of district courts fall to individual counties. Some county governments robustly support court technology infrastructure, but others do not have the resources to do so. In addition, more than half of the state's courts serve rural areas, where reliable internet service is sometimes unavailable.

    Some courts were able to adapt to the new challenges more quickly because they had the resources. Others need additional support, which the grant funding provides in part.

    Remote technology equipment and software

    District courts require technology and software to process cases remotely and for most or all district court staff to telework. The grant will help courts pay for computers, cell phones, mobile hot spots, and other technology and software needs.

    Branch-wide Zoom license and VPN access

    The Office of Judicial Administration negotiated a statewide enterprise license option with Zoom for court videoconferencing. It will provide a Zoom account for every judge and each courthouse. It also covers virtual private network (VPN) licenses that allow teleworking personnel to access the judicial network.

    Web portal to file for protective orders

    The pandemic emphasized the judicial branch's dependence on paper-based, in-person processes for some court users and some case types, such as requests for orders of protection from abuse, stalking, sexual assault, or human trafficking.

    The grant will help pay to create a scalable, accessible, and mobile-friendly web portal where a person seeking a protection order is guided through an online interview and the answers are used to populate forms a judge will review before granting an order.

    People who need these orders will no longer have to visit the courthouse in person to file the required paperwork, a process that places these vulnerable individuals at risk.

    Courthouse computer terminals for self-represented litigants

    Grant money will allow courts to place computer terminals in courthouses or other public facilities and dedicate them to self-represented litigants who do not have equipment or internet access to appear for remote proceedings.

    Centralized email service

    A centralized email service for all judicial branch personnel will allow the secure transmission of court-related documents, data, and communications between district courts and centralized judicial staff in the Office of Judicial Administration.

    Other funding resources

    The state grant money will enhance other funding sources the judicial branch is using to modernize court services. The Kansas Supreme Court and the Office of Judicial Administration recently devoted about $750,000 in Court Improvement Program grant funds and fee funds to help district courts upgrade technology. However, that funding is insufficient to meet all district court needs.

    The judicial branch continues to pursue other grant funding opportunities to strengthen digital access to justice and remote operations.


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