- Associated Press - Thursday, October 8, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Four judges who sued Kansas over the Legislature’s move to defund the state judiciary’s budget voluntarily withdrew their lawsuit Thursday after the state moved it to federal court, and they instead plan to file new claims in district court.

The latest legal maneuvering comes in response to the state’s move earlier this week that landed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Topeka, arguing it contained some federal due process claims.

“We dismissed the lawsuit so we can refile a new cause of action limiting the issues to Kansas constitutional law,” said Pedro Irigonegaray, the attorney representing the judges. “We are strongly of the opinion that this is a Kansas matter and that Kansas has the necessary tools with which to address these issues.”

Irigonegaray said the new lawsuit would be filed soon in Shawnee County District Court.

Bradley Schlozman, the private attorney Kansas hired to represent the state, said he was unaware the case had been withdrawn until contacted by The Associated Press. But he said it didn’t surprise him that the lawsuit would be refiled in state court without asserting any federal claims.

At issue is legislation passed this year that nullifies the judicial branch’s entire budget if a 2014 law stripping the Kansas Supreme Court of its ability to appoint chief judges is struck down.

The Republican-controlled Legislature stripped the justices of their ability to appoint chief district court judges in each of the state’s 31 judicial districts, transferring the power to the district judges instead. The Legislature sought earlier this year to preserve the change by enacting another law saying that if the first policy is invalided, the judicial branch’s entire budget through June 2017 is “null and void.”

Critics contend that both laws are an attack by the GOP-controlled Legislature and the state’s Republican governor on the judiciary’s independence, while supporters argue that they just want some key administrative decisions made locally.

Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks struck down the 2014 law last month, calling it an unconstitutional interference. But he put his ruling on hold at the request of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is appealing. That temporarily ended the threat to the court system’s funding.

The four judges challenged the constitutionality of the measure that the Legislature passed and Gov. Sam Brownback signed this year, which ties state court funding to the ruling over the appointment of chief judges. They contend that it amounts to the extortion of an independent branch of government.

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