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TOPEKA — The Supreme Court Nominating Commission today voted on the names of three nominees for Supreme Court justice to send to Gov. Laura Kelly.

Because the governor's office is closed today due to weather and Monday due to a state holiday, the official delivery of the nominees names to the governor will take place Tuesday.

The governor will then have 60 days to decide who will fill the vacancy created by the December 17 retirement of Chief Justice Lawton Nuss.

The three nominees are Judge Thomas Malone of the Kansas Court of Appeals, Steven Obermeier, who works for the Kansas Attorney General's Office, and Keynen "KJ" Wall, a partner in the Forbes Law Group, LLC, of Overland Park.

Judge Thomas Malone

Malone, Topeka, has been a judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals since 2003 and served as chief judge of that court from 2012 to 2017. He was a district judge in the 18th Judicial District from 1991 to 2003, and in private practice with Redmond & Nazar, LLP, from 1979 to 1990. He taught business law as an adjunct professor for Newman University from 1979 to 1987. He graduated summa cum laude from Newman University and with honors from the Washburn University School of Law.

Steven Obermeier

Obermeier, Olathe, has been assistant solicitor general for the Kansas Attorney General's Office since 2017. He was in private practice for a year after working for the Johnson County District Attorney's Office for 31 years. He graduated from Washburn University School of Law in 1982. He received bachelor's degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Kansas.

Keynen "KJ" Wall

Wall, Lawrence, is in private practice with the Forbes Law Group, LLC, of Overland Park, where he has been since 2015. From 2013 to 2015 he was special projects counsel to the Supreme Court, which involved managing the court's capital appeals office. From 2008 to 2013 he was senior legal counsel for Federated Insurance in Owatonna, Minnesota, and from 2004 to 2008, he was an associate attorney with a law firm in Greeley, Colorado. He was a judicial law clerk from 2002 to 2004 for Judge John Lungstrum, when Lungstrum was chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. He has a bachelor's degree in communication from Kansas State University, a master's degree in scientific and technical communication from the University of Minnesota, and a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law.

Public Interviews

The commission interviewed 17 applicants January 16 and 17 in the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka. All interviews were open to the public.

Merit Selection Process

Supreme Court justices are appointed through a merit-based nomination process that Kansans voted to add to the Kansas Constitution in 1958.

When there is a vacancy on the court, the Supreme Court Nominating Commission has 60 days from the date the vacancy occurs to submit names of three qualified nominees to the governor.

After receiving the list of nominees, the governor has 60 days to appoint one of them to the court.

The commission announces when it is accepting nominations, and it releases the names of who is being considered based on the nominations received.

The commission reviews the nominees' qualifications and conducts public interviews of the nominees. Through this process, the commission decides which three nominees to recommend to the governor.

To be eligible, a nominee must be:

  • at least 30 years old; and

  • a lawyer admitted to practice in Kansas and engaged in the practice of law for at least 10 years, whether as a lawyer, judge, or full-time teacher at an accredited law school.

Selection Criteria

When the Supreme Court Nominating Commission reviews nominees for the Supreme Court, they look at the person’s:

  • legal and judicial experience

  • educational background

  • character and ethics

  • temperament

  • service to the community

  • impartiality

  • respect of colleagues

Code of Judicial Conduct

Justices must follow the law and not be influenced by politics, special interest groups, public opinion, or their own personal beliefs.

Justices demonstrate their accountability by following a Code of Judicial Conduct that establishes standards of ethical behavior. They also take an oath of office that includes swearing to support, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution and Kansas Constitution.

Retention Elections

After a new justice serves one year on the court, he or she must stand for a retention vote in the next general election to remain in the position. If retained, the justice serves a six-year term.

Supreme Court Nominating Commission

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission has nine members. There is one lawyer and one nonlawyer from each of the state’s four congressional districts, plus one lawyer who serves as chairperson. Nonlawyers are appointed by the governor. Lawyers are elected by other lawyers within their congressional districts. The chairperson is elected by lawyers statewide.

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