- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Various groups are making a push to help voters decide whether to retain Kansas Supreme Court justices.

Kansas for Justice, upset over the court’s decision to overturn death sentences against Wichita brothers and convicted murderers Reginald and Jonathan Carr, are asking voters not to retain Justices Lawton Nuss, Marla Luckert, Carol Beier and Dan Biles in November, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

But those very justices are being broadly endorsed by more than 1,200 judges and lawyers who’ve appeared before the four or worked with them, according to the nonpartisan Judicial Evaluation Committee, which recently released performance assessments for state Supreme Court justices and Kansas Court of Appeals judges.

The committee’s assessment also found that there was lukewarm support for the lone justice picked by Gov. Sam Brownback - Justice Caleb Stegall, whom Kansans for Justice is backing. He was appointed the same year of the ruling in the Carr case, but after it happened.

During the Nov. 8 general election, Kansas residents have the option to renew the judicial appointments or oust judges. Nuss and Luckert were appointed by former Republican Gov. Bill Graves, while Beier and Biles were appointed by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

“Our democracy works best when voters can make informed decisions,” evaluation committee chairwoman Gloria Farha Flentje told the newspaper. “Without such a review, voters have little or no information on which to cast an informed ballot.”

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that the Carrs’ constitutional rights had been infringed upon. The brothers were sentenced to death for the December 2000 shootings of five people at a soccer complex, killing four.

“Our Kansas Supreme Court has been negligent in this area. They’re not following their oath to uphold the Kansas law and if I don’t do my job I get fired, and if they don’t do their job they just go back to their offices and keep getting paid,” said Kansans for Justice spokeswoman Amy Scott James, the former girlfriend of victim Brad Heyka, who was killed.

James said her group is nonpartisan and focused on the Carr brothers’ case, though other groups and lawmakers also are seeking to have the justices voted out because of decisions on school funding and abortion.

A different organization, Kansans for Fair Courts, supports retention of all five justices, saying that the court has come under attacks designed to undermine its credibility and jeopardize its ability to operate.

Among six Court of Appeals judges on the ballot for retention votes, Brownback appointees Judges Kathryn Gardner and David Bruns fared better than Stegall, according to the committee’s assessment.

The majority of lawyers and judges also endorsed Judges Karen Arnold-Burger and Gordon Atcheson, who were appointed by Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson. Judge Steve Leben, picked by Sebelius, and Judge Joseph Pierron, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Mike Hayden, also received support from the majority of lawyers and judges.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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