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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries
State of Kansas v. Melvin Neufeld, Docket 74,412
November 8, 2007

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefoverr@kscourts.org.


The Supreme Court today affirmed a Shawnee County decision dismissing a blackmail charge filed against State Rep. Melvin J. Neufeld, Ingalls, based on the Speech or Debate Clause of the state Constitution.

While a legislator's acts may form the basis of a criminal prosecution, the Speech or Debate Clause protects a legislator's words that are "within the legislative sphere" from being used as evidence in the criminal prosecution against a legislator, Justice Bob Abbott wrote in the court's majority opinion.

The court's 4-3 decision agreed with the trial court that conversations initiated by Rep. Neufeld to Rep. Richard Alldritt, Harper, during the last night of the 1994 veto session of the Legislature threatening to telephone Alldritt's wife with reports of "conduct unbecoming of a member of the House" were constitutionally protected.

Justice Abbott was joined in the majority opinion by Justices Fred N. Six, Donald L. Allegrucci, and Robert E. Davis. A dissent authored by Justice Tyler C. Lockett was joined by Chief Justice Kay McFarland. Justice Edward Larson joined Justice Lockett's dissent in a separate opinion.

Justice Abbott, in speaking for the majority, said the exchanges between the two representatives occurred within 10 feet of the door to the House chambers as the House was being called to order and again inside the chambers over their desk phones. "Under the facts, we are satisfied the exchanges between Neufeld and Alldritt are subject to the Speech or Debate Clause."

The court ruled that Neufeld's conduct was within the legitimate legislative sphere because it took place in a session of the House on the House floor and was in relation to the appropriations bill which was the business before the House. "The attempt to persuade another legislator to change his vote on the House floor while the bill is being voted on is 'an integral part of the deliberative and communicative process by which members participate in ...House proceedings with respect to the ... passage or rejection of proposed legislation...'" Justice Abbott wrote, quoting a similar U.S. Supreme Court decision.

"Any comments made by Neufeld to another member of the House on the House floor concerning how to vote on the only bill under consideration should not be introduced as evidence at a criminal blackmail trial. Neufeld's conduct was possibly criminal and clearly unethical. That, however, does not override the constitutional protection necessary to afford an open exchange between legislators. The public is not without a remedy. The legislature is free to sanction Neufeld as it chooses and the voters have a remedy if they desire to exercise it," he said.

In making the ruling, the Supreme Court did not reach an ancillary decision by the trial court that the charge also would not be supported by the evidence because the blackmail statute requires a thing of tangible value be gained to constitute blackmail, saying their decision on the Speech or Debate Clause made resolution of that issue unnecessary.

In his dissent, Justice Lockett said the "majority's vision of government deprives the public of its constitutional right to honest representation by a legislator who is the victim of the blackmail. Forcing a duly elected representative to change his or her vote under criminal threat of blackmail is not only repugnant to our system of government, it is an illegal act performed not in furtherance of free and open legislative debate, but in degradation of it," Justice Lockett wrote.

"The only reasonable reading of the Speech or Debate Clause ...consistent with its history and purpose, is that it does not prohibit inquiry into criminal activities occurring on the House or Senate floor, because such conduct is not a part of the legislative process. Conduct such as blackmail or bribery occurring during a session of the House on the House floor is not protected" under the Constitution," he concluded.