- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - An attorney for four Kansas judges said Wednesday that they will continue pursuing a lawsuit involving the court system’s budget, despite an order protecting its funding obtained by Attorney General Derek Schmidt in his own separate case.

Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka lawyer representing the four state district court judges, said he believes Schmidt’s case was technically flawed, making the court order issued at the attorney general’s request “potentially inoperable.” That order, issued Tuesday, prevents the state from enforcing until March 15 a law that could invalidate the judiciary’s entire budget.

Legislators approved the budget measure earlier this year to protect another law that strips the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to appoint chief judges in each of the state’s 31 judicial districts, giving it to the local judges. The budget measure says if the change in the selection process is struck down, the judiciary’s entire budget through June 2017 is “null and void.”

Critics see both laws as attacks on the judiciary’s independence by the Republican-dominated Legislature and GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed both measures. Supporters contend they simply want to have some key administrative decisions made locally.

A Shawnee County judge last month struck down the change in the selection process, and the four judges then filed a lawsuit against the budget measure, also in Shawnee County, home to the state capital. Schmidt filed his case Tuesday in Neosho County, nearly 100 miles south of Topeka, and the judge there issued an order quickly enough that both it and Schmidt’s petition bore the same official time stamp.

Schmidt raised narrower legal issues than the judges, who argued that the budget measure interferes with the courts’ constitutional authority to decide cases “without fear or favor.”

“It is our intention to fully prosecute our claims,” Irigonegaray said during an interview.

The Republican attorney general issued a statement Tuesday saying he filed his case to ensure the courts remain open and to give legislators time to review the budget measure after they reconvene in January. Spokeswoman Jennifer Rapp said Schmidt sought to avoid the “epicenter” of a heated debate by filing his case “away from Topeka.”

Rapp said in email Wednesday that with the budget measure blocked, Schmidt hopes the four judges represented by Irigonegaray “won’t feel compelled to keep fighting to accomplish something that already has occurred.”

But Irigonegaray said the state should acknowledge “wrongdoing” by the legislative and executive branches of government and drop its opposition to the judges’ lawsuit.

The Shawnee County judge who struck down the selection law declared that it improperly interfered with the power granted to the Supreme Court under the state constitution to supervise the judicial branch. He put his order on hold while the state appeals it.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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