- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Four Kansas judges plan to file a lawsuit to block the state Legislature’s move to eliminate funding for the entire judicial branch over an administrative dispute, even though the state attorney general asked them not to do so.

At issue in the constitutional showdown between the state’s branches of government is legislation passed this year that would defund the Kansas judicial branch if a 2014 law stripping the Kansas Supreme Court of its ability to appoint chief district court judges is struck down.

On Friday, Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a statement in which he acknowledged that the Kansas Constitution “plainly forbids” the reduction of judicial salaries in most circumstances, and agreed cutting off judicial funding while the Legislature is adjourned and unable to make alternate appropriations would violate that provision. But he noted that the law at issue was already blocked by court order in a separate case until at least March 15 to give the legislative and judicial branches an opportunity to “avoid escalating their fight.”

Schmidt said he was grateful the judges had voluntarily dismissed late Thursday their lawsuit after the state moved the litigation to federal court. He urged them not to file a new lawsuit in state court limiting their claims to state issues as the judges planned, saying that to proceed with yet more litigation at this time challenging a law that already is blocked is “a waste of everyone’s time and money.”

But Pedro Irigonegaray, the attorney representing the judges, told The Associated Press on Friday his clients intended to file a new lawsuit under Kansas law in Shawnee County District Court, rather than wait for the Legislature next year to do something.



“The Legislature created this problem knowing full well what they were doing. If this had been a simple mistake, we could wait,” Irigonegaray said, adding that the Legislature ignored all the warnings that the law they passed was unconstitutional, but passed it anyway. “Are we simply to wait for these same individuals to fix this nightmare? No. I don’t trust them.”

Schmidt’s public statement on Friday essentially concedes the law is unconstitutional, Irigonegaray said. He urged Schmidt to fire the private attorney the state hired to defend that law, and stop wasting taxpayers’ money. Once the judges file their new lawsuit, the state attorney general’s office should instead tell the court it agrees the law should be struck down as a violation of the Kansas constitution, he said.

“If he is willing to do that, then I think we can move forward,” Irigonegaray said.

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.” A judge struck down that law last month, but put his ruling on hold pending appeal.

The four judges contend that tying state court funding to the ruling over the appointment of chief judges amounts to the extortion of an independent branch of government.

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