Law & Courts

Controversial Conversation

By Linda Jacobson — May 09, 2006 1 min read
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A lunchtime meeting between a Kansas Supreme Court justice and the president of the state Senate in which the ongoing school finance lawsuit against the state was discussed has prompted a request for an investigation by a judicial panel.

On March 1, Justice Lawton R. Nuss met at a Mexican restaurant in Topeka with Senate President Stephen Morris and Sen. Pete Brungardt, both Republicans.

In an April 26 memo to the Republican caucus, Sen. Morris wrote that the conversation about the finance case lasted only about five minutes. He said that Justice Nuss wanted to know how a House bill recommending $500 million for schools compared with figures compiled by a state auditor and with the figures in a cost study by the Denver-based school finance consultants John G. Augenblick and John L. Myers.

“The justice did make a comment that he had read quotes in the paper indicating several leaders would like to see a bipartisan school finance plan adopted by the legislature before final adjournment,” Sen. Morris wrote. “He said he thought that sounded good. This was the extent of the discussion.”

“With pressing issues still awaiting action,” he continued, “it is unfortunate some are attempting to blow this situation out of proportion. We must move on to the important issues yet to be resolved.”

A statement issued by the supreme court on April 20 supported Mr. Morris’ account.

Still, Justice Nuss has withdrawn from the case to avoid an appearance of impropriety. Chief Justice Kay McFarland has asked the state’s Commission on Judicial Qualifications to look into whether the justice violated ethical standards.

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The issue comes at a time when the Kansas legislature, which has been ordered by the court to increase school aid, is trying to meet that demand before the end of this year’s session.

Some legislators argue that the conversation proves that the court is trying to legislate from the bench.

But representatives of the education community hope lawmakers will look past the controversy. “The luncheon was an unfortunate incident in that it served as a distraction to the work being done,” Jim Edwards, a government-relations specialist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said in an e-mail.

“All in all, cooler heads have seemed to prevail,” he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2006 edition of Education Week

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