- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Three media organizations are suing Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and two others in his administration under the Kansas Open Records Act, seeking the public disclosure of documents related to the appointment of a magistrate judge to replace another who retired before the end of his term.

The lawsuit filed late Wednesday by The Associated Press, The Hutchinson News and the Kansas Press Association, follows a flurry of media requests for more transparency in the appointment to a usually elected position. The administration has repeatedly refused to release application documents, saying the material is exempt under the Kansas Open Records Act.

The lawsuit filed in Shawnee County District Court names Brownback, his spokeswoman Eileen Hawley and his director of appointments Kim Borchers. It asks the court to order the disclosure of the requested records and seeks costs and attorney fees.

“Our government has made it the public policy of the state to have open records, and unfortunately it is the press’ job to enforce that public policy because the government is not following through,” attorney Nathanael Berg, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the media organizations, said Thursday.

“We do not comment on pending litigation,” Hawley said on behalf of all three public officials named in the suit in an email Thursday.

At issue is the refusal by the governor’s office to release documents submitted by candidates seeking appointment as a Reno County magistrate judge following the retirement of Randall McEwen, whose term runs through November 2016.

McEwen announced his retirement in February from the 27th Judicial District. Brownback appointed Assistant District Attorney Cheryl L. Allen to fill the position, beginning Oct. 13, 2015.

The three media organizations filed various open records requests in October seeking resumes, letters of recommendation and other materials submitted by candidates. Hawley rejected them all, citing in part an exemption to the open records law which says applications for state employment are not subject to public disclosure.

The lawsuit contends the public has a right to information on the candidates and the appointment process, given that the position is ordinarily filled by election.


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