TOPEKA—Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Steve Leben will leave the court June 26 and join the faculty at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law in the fall as a visiting professor.
Leben was appointed to the court in 2007 after serving 14 years as a district court judge in Johnson County.
He is nationally recognized for his work promoting procedural fairness in court, winning the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence from the National Center for State Courts and the Chief Justice Richard W. Holmes Award of Merit from the American Judges Association.
"I’ve been blessed to be able to use my platform as a Kansas judge to help promote fairness in courts throughout the United States," Leben said.
He and Minneapolis trial judge Kevin Burke co-wrote a groundbreaking report for the American Judges Association in 2007 on how to make sure courts "not only get the result right but also make sure those who come through the court system feel they were fairly treated along the way."
"That’s an important part of the justice system, and I’ve gone to more than 20 states to help educate judges about it," Leben said.
He said that while he has enjoyed being a judge since 1993, he feels ready to start a new chapter.
Leben has taught part-time at the University of Kansas School of Law since 2007.
"I’ve greatly enjoyed helping those students get a grasp both of the subjects I’ve taught and a bigger picture about our justice system," he said. "So I’ve decided to go full-time in teaching tomorrow’s lawyers, who will be the future protectors of our rights. I’ll continue to work on procedural fairness in our courts, and I’ll have a chance to write on topics that can help improve both the justice system and development of the law."
Barbara Glesner Fines, dean of the UMKC School of Law, said, "We at UMKC Law are thrilled to welcome Judge Leben—an outstanding jurist, scholar, and teacher—to our faculty."
Chief Judge Karen Arnold-Burger of the Kansas Court of Appeals said Leben will be missed.
“Judge Leben has been a leader on this court since he joined it in 2007. He has served as a mentor to many of us, and his keen intellect will be sorely missed," she said. "The law students at UMKC are indeed lucky that he has chosen to leave his stellar judicial career to give back to his profession by sharing his vast knowledge with them. We wish him the best of luck.”
Chief Justice Marla Luckert of the Kansas Supreme Court echoed her comments.
"Judge Leben’s future students are lucky to have the opportunity to learn from such a talented and skilled attorney and judge," she said. "He has set a standard for clear and well-reasoned decisions and has led many efforts to improve the judicial system in Kansas and nationally. Because of his teaching, judges everywhere have a better understanding of and appreciation for the importance of procedural fairness in our courts."
Leben said he leaves the court with appreciation to Govs. Joan Finney and Kathleen Sebelius, who appointed him to the district court and Court of Appeals, respectively, and to Kansans who have voted to retain him in office each term.
"I also want to recognize the staff who make the Kansas court system work so well. They are underpaid compared to similar jobs, but they take their commitment as part of a justice system quite seriously," he said. "Every day, they do both basic and very sophisticated work that’s critical to protecting the rights we cherish. I couldn’t have done my job well without great help from our staff."
Leben was born in Eureka and grew up in El Dorado. He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas. After working as press secretary for U.S. Rep. Bob Whittaker of Kansas, he returned to KU to attend law school. After graduating in 1982, he worked in private practice until he was appointed as a district judge.
In addition to writing and speaking about procedural fairness, Leben co-founded www.proceduralfairness.org, a website devoted to procedural fairness in courts. He also was editor of Court Review, the journal of the American Judges Association, stepping down in 2017 after 20 years.
He served as president of the American Judges Association from 2006 to 2007 and has held several roles in the Kansas Bar Association and American Bar Association.
Leben lives in Fairway with his wife, Dr. Ann Warner. He has three stepchildren.
When there is a vacancy on the Court of Appeals, the governor accepts applications and makes the appointment, subject to a majority vote of the Kansas Senate.
The governor has 60 days from the date the position becomes vacant to make the appointment, although the appointment process can begin immediately. A successor can be appointed but not sworn in until after Leben leaves the position.
Once the appointment is made, the incumbent must stand for a retention vote in the first general election after serving one year in office. Once retained, the judge serves a four-year term.
A Court of Appeals judge must:
be at least 30 years old; and
have been a Kansas lawyer, judge, or full-time teacher at an accredited law school for at least 10 years.
To be considered for this vacancy, contact:
Governor’s Appointments Office