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News Releases

10/13/09: Judge Named to American Law Institute -10/08/09: Courts Shorten Access Hours - 07/01/09: Court Filing Fees Hiked - 06/19/09: RE: State v. Sharp - 05/21/09: Electronic Filing of Court Cases - 04/24/09: 25th Judicial District Judge Nominees Sought - 02/27/09: Biles Swearing-in Scheduled for March 6, 2009 - 01/21/09: Chase County District Magistrate Judge Appointed

See the Archives for new releases dating back to 1997


Hon. Steve Leben
Hon. Steve Leben

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 13, 2009

For More information
contact Ron Keefover,
Education-Information Officer

Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Steve Leben has been elected to the American Law Institute (ALI), a prestigious legal organization whose members are elected through a rigorous selection process, it was announced in Topeka today.

Leben is among 68 newly elected members of the now 4,234-member council. He is the only member of the Kansas judiciary who presently serves as an elected member of ALI.

“The process of being selected into the ALI is rigorous,” ALI President Roberta Cooper Ramo said in announcing the new members. “Membership is a significant honor, as well as a promise to contribute to the health of the legal system in the U.S. and, increasingly, that of legal systems around the world. With the formidable challenges facing our world, these additions to our ranks will enhance our ability to take on the major legal problems of the times and develop solutions,” she said.

The Institute is the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly works to clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law. The Institute publishes Restatements of the Law, model statutes, and principles of law that are enormously influential in the courts and the legislatures, as well as in legal scholarship and education.

Judge Leben joined the Kansas Court of Appeals in June 2007 after serving nearly 14 years as a district judge in Johnson County. In addition to his work as a judge, Leben also regularly teaches a course on legislation and statutory interpretation at the University of Kansas School of Law. He has served since 1998 as editor of Court Review, a national journal for judges, and he was president of the American Judges Association in 2006-2007. Before becoming a judge, Leben practiced law for 11 years in the Kansas City area—six years with the firm of Stinson, Mag & Fizzell (now Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP) and five years in solo practice.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 8, 2009

For more information
contact Ron Keefover,
Education-Information Officer

So far this year, the state court system’s $15.9 million budget shortfall has prompted judges from 18 counties to limit the hours of public access to the office of the clerk of district court, it was announced in Topeka today.

The 18 counties are in addition to 15 counties that previously were granted Supreme Court permission to close early because of chronic understaffing. During the closed hours, clerk’s office employees focus on filing papers and making computer data entries for case events and actions.

The shortened hours of public access have been implemented to make up for the elimination of all funding for part-time temporary employees and vacancies left by a statewide hiring freeze. “There just aren’t enough personnel to keep up with the motions and other paper and computer entries that are attendant to approximately 500,000 cases being filed in the district courts annually,” Chief Justice Robert E. Davis said.

“With the hiring freeze and elimination of all part-time temporary employees, many in the courts are doing their own work plus that of one or two of their colleagues who have left the court, or who are on extended leaves of absence,” the chief justice reported.

Wednesday, Nancy Parrish, Chief Judge of Shawnee County District Court, announced that the clerks’ offices for that court will close to the public at 4 p.m. beginning November 1. Shawnee County is the first of the state’s four urban judicial districts to shorten public access hours, with the exception of certain clerks’ offices in Sedgwick County that close early to all but those who must meet financial obligations.

Approximately 40 counties in Kansas have two or fewer employees in the clerk’s office when fully staffed.

“Because 98 percent of the Kansas Judicial Branch budget goes to pay employee salaries, the current reduction in this fiscal year’s basic maintenance budget has led to a crisis that may be unparalleled in Kansas court system history,” Chief Justice Davis said. Employee salaries are paid by the state general fund, with operations and the other expenses of courthouse offices being the responsibility of county commissions.

All told, the Judicial Branch basic maintenance budget was reduced $15.9 million by the Legislature for the 2010 fiscal year that began July 1. This deficit can only be partially made up by the Legislature’s authorization of an increase of $10 per case filing, as well as an $830,000 federal stimulus grant. Other measures, such as the hiring freeze, eliminating use of retired judges to help with caseloads, and abolishing temporary employee hours will save an additional estimated $2.1. But all of these measures will still leave the court system short an estimated $8 million for the current fiscal year, unless emergency supplemental funding is provided by the 2010 Legislature, something the governor and key legislators have said they support. The Supreme Court is preparing a contingency plan to close all courthouses in the state for up to four weeks if that becomes necessary.

Following is a list of district courts that have limited public access and the hours they are currently open:

District Courts with Limited Public Access Hours

COUNTY

PUBLIC HOURS

Jackson

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Jefferson

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Pottawatomie

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Wabaunsee

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Shawnee

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Anderson

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Coffey

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Franklin

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Osage

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Lyon

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Bourbon

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Linn

8:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Miami

8:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Douglas

8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m - 5:00 p.m.

Geary

9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Harvey

9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

McPherson

9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Cherokee

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Crawford (Pittsburg and Girard)

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Labette (Parsons and Oswego)

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Chautauqua

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Montgomery (Independence and Coffeyville)

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Ford

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Cowley (Winfield and Arkansas City)

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Clay

9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Riley

9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Ellis

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Finney

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Reno

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Saline

8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Sumner

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Neosho (Erie)

8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Wilson

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 1, 2009

For more information
contact Ron Keefover,
Education-Information Officer

The cost of going to court in Kansas is going up beginning today with the implementation of a temporary $10 surcharge on most kinds of cases being added to court filing fees.

Chief Justice Robert E. Davis wrote in the order implementing the surcharge that the additional court fees were ordered because of a $15.9 million cut in the state court system budget. The surcharge means the cost of filing such cases as felonies and civil matters, including divorces, will now be $183 and $166, respectively. The complete range of fees is online at Judicial Branch website, www.kscourts.org.

The surcharge is projected to restore approximately $5 million of the budget shortfall. Other actions by the Supreme Court that have been taken so far are projected to make up another $2.8 million of the budget cuts. The Court also has applied for a $2.6 million grant as part of federal stimulus program. The balance is to be sought from the 2010 Legislature as supplemental funding, something both the governor and the legislative leadership have said they would try to secure.

However, if the grant application is unsuccessful and no supplemental funding is approved, the remainder of the court system deficit may be required to be saved through 30 days of furlough of all non-judicial employees beginning in January. That means courts across Kansas would have to close one week of each month of the second half of the fiscal year.

Davis said the "cut and resulting court closings would have devastating consequences for our most vulnerable Kansas citizens. Children in need of care, persons seeking protection from abuse and protection from stalking, and persons and their families who are seeking mental health or substance abuse treatment all would be placed at risk."

He added that "court services officers would be less available to supervise persons convicted of misdemeanor and felony offenses" and that everyone in the courts would struggle to meet filing and other deadlines required by speedy trial and other Kansas statutes.

"We have made and will continue to make every effort to reduce expenditures as much as possible, but with almost 98 percent of our State General Fund budget needed to pay salaries and wages, savings of this magnitude will not be possible. As has always been the case, the Judicial Branch has no option other than reducing salary expenditures in order to meet a budget cut of any significance."

Davis said he knew going into the 2009 legislative session that, given the state of the economy, it was inevitable that every state budget would be cut. The Judicial Branch was prepared for this eventuality and to accept cuts commensurate with those expected of all state-funded entities. However, the final budget reduction that undercut the basic court maintenance budget by $15,900,055 million from $112,878,918 to $96,978,863 is devastating, he said.

Link to Surcharge Chart


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 19, 2009

For more information
contact Ron Keefover,
Education-Information Officer

The Supreme Court today upheld the kidnapping and murder convictions of Kimberly Sharp, one of four defendants found guilty for the brutal killing of David Owen, a Topeka man who used unconventional methods to advocate for the homeless. (Full Opinion)

A police canine search team found Owen's decomposing body in a heavily wooded area on the north bank of the Kansas River near downtown Topeka July 2, 2006. Trial testimony indicated he was tied to a tree, kicked in the head, and left to die approximately two weeks earlier following an encounter at a homeless campsite on the river bank. Owen was known to offer the use of his phone cards and cell phones to homeless persons to call their loved ones. He also tried to force them to return to their families by destroying their camps and taking their equipment and supplies.

Today's decision upheld Sharp's felony murder and kidnapping convictions for her involvement with Charles Hollingsworth and Carl Lee Baker in Owen's death. The charges against the fourth defendant, John Cornell, were reduced by the prosecutor to involuntary manslaughter and kidnapping in exchange for his guilty plea and testimony against the other three defendants. Sharp was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for 20 years for the murder and 61 months' imprisonment for kidnapping.

Justice Lawton R. Nuss, writing for the majority in today's 6-1 decision, said former Shawnee County District Judge Thomas R. Conklin did not err in denying Sharp's motion to suppress her confession, in limiting the defense questioning of Cornell, or in admitting into evidence statements from codefendants Hollingsworth and Baker under the coconspirator exception to the hearsay rule. The Court also rejected Sharp's contention that she should be granted a new trial as a result of cumulative error.

Justice Nuss wrote in the Court's decision:
"Sharp argues that her confession should have been suppressed because it was involuntary and unreliable. She primarily argues that her confession, including her re-enactment at the crime scene, was exchanged for an 'explicit promise of leniency.' Specifically, Sharp contends that [the police detective] promised her she would not go to jail in connection with Owen's murder and this promise, combined with his assurances that he would help her and her children, as well as her 'particularly vulnerable position,' all worked to overcome her will."

Sharp contended that her "particularly vulnerable position" consisted of being "young, homeless, recently divorced, with two small children."

In rejecting her confession argument, the Court ruled that Judge Conklin's finding–that Sharp was not under coercion or operating under any law enforcement promises–was sufficiently supported by the evidence. It then concluded, based upon all the circumstances, that Sharp had failed to show that the detective had unfairly deprived her of "her free and independent will."

Justice Lee A. Johnson, however, dissented from the majority's determination that all of Sharp's statements were the product of her free and independent will. He said the Court should look at Sharp's interrogation from the "objective view of the defendant, i.e., would a reasonable person have been induced to make a statement by the detective's promises or assurances."

Justice Johnson wrote in his dissent that "anyone in Sharp's situation would have understood that the detective was promising that she was not going to jail 'as long as [she did] not do something dumb and jam [herself]." He added that a promise to take care of her homeless children is just as inducive or coercive as a promise of leniency.

The Supreme Court last December upheld Baker's convictions arising from Owen's murder. Hollingsworth's appeal is pending; Cornell did not appeal his guilty plea.

In the Baker case, the Court rejected his claim that the jury should have been instructed on his contention that he acted under duress, i.e., was forced to participate in the Owen murder under fear for his life. Justice Nuss, who also wrote the decision in Baker's case, said there was insufficient evidence of Baker being forced to help Hollingsworth to warrant an instruction for the jury to consider.

Justice Nuss wrote:
"In sum, even when viewed in the light most favorable to Baker, the evidence is insufficient to justify a rational factfinder finding in accordance with his compulsion defense. Any coercion or duress was not imminent or continuous when Hollingsworth and Owen were outside the camp. Moreover, Baker had reasonable opportunity to escape, or at least withdraw, from the criminal activities, particularly when alone in camp with Greene."

The Baker decision also upheld the admission of postmortem photographs, the prosecutor's use of a sports team analogy to explain the concept of aiding and abetting to the jury, and the defendant's sentence of life without the possibility of parole for 20 years for Owen's murder, plus 233 months for the kidnapping.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 21, 2009

For more information
contact Ron Keefover,
Education-Information Officer

An organizational meeting of a Supreme Court advisory committee that has been appointed to study statewide electronic filing of court cases has been scheduled for June 3 at 10 a.m. in the Kansas Judicial Center, 301 W. 10th, it was announced in Topeka today.

It is being chaired by Justice Marla J. Luckert, with Justice Dan Biles serving as vice chair. In addition to judges, court administrators and clerks, attorneys specializing in collection matters and other members of the legal community, the committee includes the chairs of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

“While no one expects implementation of such a statewide program in the immediate future, it is important that we begin looking at how electronic filing could be implemented in the Kansas Courts,” Justice Luckert said in announcing the committee’s first meeting. “This meeting represents our initial steps in understanding what might be involved in developing an electronic filing system that best meets the needs of Kansas courts, attorneys and the public,” she said.

The committee is to make recommendations to the Supreme Court regarding policy decisions that would be necessitated should a statewide electronic filing system be implemented in Kansas. The committee has been divided into three subcommittees to address policy and procedure, finance, and technology.

Link to information regarding the committee work.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 24, 2009

For more information
contact Ron Keefover,
Education-Information Officer

The 12-member commission is responsible for submitting the names of two or three nominees to the Governor for the vacancy which was created by the retirement of Judge Thomas F. Richardson.

“The nominating commission is especially interested in receiving recommendations of suggested nominees to fill the vacancy from the general public. All of the citizens of the 25th Judicial District are requested to consider this matter, and the names of suggested nominees submitted by the general public will be welcomed by the commission,” according to Supreme Court Justice Dan Biles, departmental chair for the 25th District.

Kansas statutes require that a judge be a resident of the district in which selected, be at least 30 years of age, have been in the active practice of law for at least five years, and have been admitted to the practice of law within the State of Kansas.

Suggested nominees are requested to complete questionnaires for the position. The completed forms should be returned to Gerald O. Schultz, Nominating Commission Secretary, 302 Fleming, Suite 5, Garden City, KS 67846 no later than noon, May 29, 2009. The forms are available in the office of the clerk of the district court in Finney, Greeley, Hamilton, Kearny, Scott, and Wichita counties and online at www.kscourts.org.

The nominating commission will convene at 9:30 a.m., June 23, in the main courtroom, Garden City Courthouse to interview the suggested nominees. The meeting will be open to the public; however, the commission has the authority to adjourn to executive session to discuss personal traits of the suggested nominees.

The law requires that the commission submit at least two names, but not more than three, to the Governor who may appoint any of the suggested nominees.

Notices of the vacancy are being mailed to every attorney in this judicial district by the chair of the commission.

The 25th Judicial District Nominating Commission includes: Justice Biles as the nonvoting chair and Robert H. Gale, Jr., Syracuse; Jake W. Brooks, Scott City; Thomas Walker, John M. Lindner, Gene H. Gaede, William I. Heydman, and Gerald P. Schultz, all of Garden City; Brian Gruber, Greeley County; Timothy C. Kohart, Hamilton County; Ralph T. Goodnight, Kearny County; Earl Wiles, Wichita County; and Manuel J. Hopkins, Scott County.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 27, 2009

For more information
contact Ron Keefover,
Education-Information Officer

Overland Park Attorney Dan Biles will be sworn in as the 74th justice of the Kansas Supreme Court during a special session of the Court Friday, March 6, 2009. The session will be at 2 p.m. in the Supreme Court Courtroom in the Kansas Judicial Center, 301 W. 10th, in Topeka.

Biles will be presented to the Court by Dr. Diane Bannerman Juracek, Ph.D., a senior director at Community Living Opportunities, Inc., a non-profit Kansas corporation serving more than 370 children and adults with severe developmental disabilities in community-based residential and day programs. It was founded 32 years ago as an alternative to state-operated institutions. Biles served on the CLO Board Directors for 20 years, but let his term expire after being appointed to the Supreme Court.

Biles, 56-year-old native of El Dorado, served as a partner in the law firm of Gates, Biles, Shields & Ryan, P.A., Overland Park, immediately preceding his appointment. He joined the firm (formerly known as Gates & Clyde, Chartered) in 1985. His practice emphasized administrative, trial, and appellate work on behalf of individuals, corporations, and various state and local government agencies. Biles represented the Kansas State Board of Education as its attorney from 1985 until his appointment to the Supreme Court. He also served as general counsel for the Kansas Turnpike Authority.

Admitted to the Kansas Bar in April 1978, he is a graduate of the Washburn University School of Law and Kansas State University, where he received a BS in Journalism in1974. Beginning in 1980, Biles served five years as an Assistant Attorney General, Litigation Division. Previously, he was a writer for the Associated Press in Topeka, reporting on legislative hearings and sessions, the Kansas Supreme Court, Governor’s office, various state agencies, and political and campaign activities. He also has been an adjunct professor of law at the Washburn law school.

Biles and his wife, Amy McCart, Ph.D., who is an assistant research professor at the University of Kansas, Beach Center on Disability, are parents to three daughters.


Hon. Roger Gossard
Hon. Roger Gossard

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 21, 2009

For more information
contact Ron Keefover,
Education-Information Officer

The Hon. Roger Gossard has been appointed by the Kansas Supreme Court as chief judge of the 14th Judicial District. Counties in the district are Montgomery and Chautauqua.

As chief judge, Judge Gossard has general management responsibilities in the judicial district, including assigning judicial caseloads and directing all clerical and administrative personnel. He has served as a District Court Judge for the Fourteenth Judicial District Division Two since January 2003. Judge Gossard graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1966 with a B.A., and his Juris Doctorate in 1969.

Judge Gossard served on active duty as a United States Air Force Judge Advocate from June 1970 to April 1974 and as a USAF Reserve Judge Advocate until 1998. Judge Gossard was admitted to the Kansas Bar in 1969 and was in private practice in Coffeyville for 28 years.

Judge Gossard is a member of the Kansas District Judges Association, Southeast Kansas Bar Association, First United Methodist Church (Coffeyville), former American Red Cross Pioneer Chapter Board of Directors, Coffeyville Kiwanis Club, Assistant Scoutmaster Boy Scout Troop 47, American Legion Post 20 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1022. He and his wife, Betty, have three adult children.