Article last updated at 5:03 p.m. Friday, April 15:
Kansas’ Seventh Judicial District will soon have a seventh division and judge.
Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert signed an administrative order Friday to certify the creation of 14 new divisions in courts statewide, including one new judge division for Douglas County.
This is the first time since 2008 that any new judge posts have been certified in any Kansas district court, according to a Friday news release from the Kansas Judicial Branch.
“We continue to evaluate case filings and judge workloads to verify we are able to meet the case processing needs of our communities,” Luckert said in the news release. “This year, when we reported a persistent and growing need for more judges, the Legislature approved our request for funding. We are grateful for their support.”
Though there are many factors that can contribute to slow processing time for criminal cases in the Douglas County system, the number of judges in the courthouse — positions that are funded by the state — is one issue that has plagued advocates for criminal justice reform. Heavy caseloads in each of the court’s divisions have slowed the wheels of justice for years.
Luckert’s administrative order also creates nine new district magistrate judge positions statewide.
“The posts depend on funding in 2022 House Substitute for Substitute for Senate Bill 267, which is enrolled and awaiting the governor’s signature,” the news release stated. “The court system anticipates this funding provision to become law.”
District judges must be at least 30 years old and a lawyer admitted to practice in Kansas and engaged in practicing law for at least five years, “whether as a lawyer, judge, or full-time teacher at an accredited law school,” according to the release.
“Newly certified district judge divisions in districts that have approved nonpartisan selection will be filled through a merit-based nomination process,” according to the release. “A nominating commission evaluates candidates and submits the names of three to five nominees to the governor. The governor then decides whom to appoint.”
Judicial nominating commissions include people who live in the judicial district, including both lawyers and nonlawyers. Lawyers elect other lawyers to the commission; nonlawyer members are appointed by local county commissions, according to the release.
The three Douglas County commissioners each appoint one nonlawyer to a four-year term on the nominating commission. County records show that Commissioner Shannon Portillo appointed Elina Alterman and Commissioner Shannon Reid reappointed Lisa Harris as nonlawyer members in March. Commissioner Patrick Kelly appointed Stephanie Davis in February 2019.
Lawyer members of the commission when the last Douglas County district judge was selected included Supreme Court Justice Eric Rosen as the nonvoting chair and Elizabeth Cateforis, Wesley Smith and Daniel Watkins.
Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria said via email Friday afternoon that the nomination process will take some time, and he would not expect the nominating committee to get a slate of candidates to the governor for consideration sooner than late summer or early fall.