"Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill it teaches the whole people by its example.
Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself."
–Supreme Court Justice Brandeis

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Documents submitted to the Blue Ribbon Commission suggesting possible improvements in the Kansas Court system “Are Not Open Records’’- Guess they missed the whole ‘Transparency’ thing..

Suggestions about court improvements are not open records

By Earl Glynn On June 16, 2011

Statue of Justice at Kansas Judicial Center

Documents submitted to the Blue Ribbon Commission suggesting possible improvements in the Kansas Court system are not open records.

The public may only view summaries prepared by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

In January Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss announced the appointment of the 24-member “Blue Ribbon Commission” to conduct an intensive review of the state courts.

The BRC held 19 regional public hearings from April 18 to June 6 and asked the public for feedback verbally or in writing to four questions:

  • Are there things the courts do locally that could be performed regionally or at one central statewide location to improve their efficiency?
  • How could the courts use technology to make their operations more cost-effective or improve access to the courts?
  • How can the courts become more flexible in the use of people and facilities as workloads and funding fluctuate?
  • What other ideas, issues, or concerns do you want the BRC to consider?

The public was also invited to submit written comments via the email address KSCourtStudyBRC@kscourts.org.


The BRC published online a summary of verbal and written feedback from each of the 19 meetings as well as a consolidated summary.

After the hearings completed on June 6 in Topeka, Kansas Watchdog sent an email to the above address asking two questions:

  • Are the written statements submitted to the BRC open records that can be reviewed by the public?
  • What other information collected by the BRC will be put online for review by the public?

Steve Grieb, general counsel to Chief Justice Nuss, responded Tuesday via email:

“The documents submitted to the BRC are for the BRC.”

Grieb gave no other answer or explanation, except that summaries would be put online.

Apparently, the public can read the online 56-page summary with 1,237 comments but cannot review the original documents.

The tentative timeline indicates a final report for presentation to the Kansas Supreme Court will be ready in late December 2011.

Kansas Watchdog reviewed the online 1,237 comments and selected some representative comments below.  Follow the link below to read the complete summary document.

Selected comments from 1,237 comments in the Blue Ribbon Commission’s Feedback from Community and other Meetings and directly-received Documents (56 pages), updated June 15, 2011.
Q1. Are there things the courts do locally that could be performed regionally or at one central statewide location to improve their efficiency?  (64 comments)

a. Regionalize (27 comments)

10. Probably don’t need 31 judicial districts.

14. Having a courthouse within 70 miles would be fine if they close some courthouses.

26. Why is technology not being used to bring urban work to the rural areas? That would save jobs and keep services intact.

b. Keep at local level (37 comments)

11. Take the state out of the courts, and let each county have its own court, as it was before 1977.

28. When the state collects taxes, there is a promise of a certain level of services, and public safety is a promise.

32. Criminals come from the cities to prey on the elderly in the rural counties. The counties need more help, not more of a burden.

Q2. How could the courts use technology to make their operations more cost-effective or improve access to the courts?  (334 comments)

a. A/V Technology (134 comments)

11. Allow W. KS judges to hold hearings in E. KS through audio/ video conferencing.

54. Skype or other internet-based appearances should be fine for technical witnesses in particular, should be mandated statewide, and should be admissible in jury trials.

123. Could see benefits such as safety to video conferencing by not having face-to-face confrontations to further the intimidations and could see advantages as far as transportation and travel.

b. E-everything (97 comments)

3. Put records online so that one can see what is filed without having to go to courthouse.

7. More information s/b available on the web. A manual search for records in many places is still necessary.

22. Court rules require paper records to be kept, so E-filing could be more useful if the rules were changed to not require retention of paper records.

42. Making computers accessible to the pro se public will be necessary with e- filing.

c. Anti-technology (100 comments)

3. Juveniles need face-to-face contact with a judge. The nervousness of going in front of the judge impresses upon them the seriousness of the situation and their offense. Relationships can be established through face-to-face contact. Interacting with judge solely through monitor is too close to a video game.

23. There is a difference between appearing in court personally or over a camera. There is a stronger impact when the person appears personally before the judge, especially with juveniles.

49. Technology is not optimal for reading facial expressions.

96. If video conferencing is used for domestic violence hearings, the perpetrator will have the edge.

d.  Other (3 comments)

2. An automated call system to remind defendants/respondents of upcoming hearings may help reduce failures to appear.

3. Cameras and better acoustics in the courtrooms are necessary to hear all individuals, including jurors.

Q3. How can the courts become more flexible in the use of people and facilities as workloads and funding fluctuate?  (194 comments)

a. Consolidate/Share (57 comments)

14. Consolidation will not necessarily save any money, and could cost money through re-modeling, travel, etc.

20. Caseloads do not justify the number of judges in each district; they should be used in other districts also.

54. The Commission should remember that it’s hard to have centralization when there isn’t centralized funding: salaries are paid by state, but everything else is paid for by the county.

b. District Magistrate Judges (DMJs) & District Court Judges(DJs)  (113 comments)

39. We use DMJs here; some have law degrees, some don’t. We have very good DMJs in this district. Other districts that don’t use DMJs should consider using them.

41. The bar will usually say that they favor retention; the public will usually say that they prefer elections.

60. The public doesn’t really know what judges do. They react only to a few high profile opinions or cases.

79. Appeals from magistrates to district judges are a problem. Things should not be tried twice.

101. We give up some accountability when one switches from elected to appointed judges.

113. We owe it to the accused, particularly those who are innocent, to be able to get a judge in the middle of the night, if necessary.

c.  Other (24 comments)

7. Poverty in this area is a predominant issue, a real consideration: not having a car to get to hearings, no public transportation. One attorney has clients who walk to Chanute to make meetings. He has clients who remain married, although completely out of touch, because they don’t have the money for a divorce.

16. The chief judge position should rotate among the judges in a district.

24. We need to look outside the box for ways to do more with less.


4. What other ideas, issues, or concerns do you want the BRC to consider?  (645 comments)

a.  Access to Justice/Timeliness  (149 comments)

3. Government is saying please come to western KS, but don’t expect any services here.

26. A domestic violence case deserves to have immediate access to judge. We’re all Kansas people; we all deserve access to justice. The only reason not to have access to justice is political expediency.

30. Removing judges from our rural areas will increase lawlessness and create a lack of access to justice.

93. There needs to be a more strict and literal interpretation of constitution provisions, both the US and Kansas – due process, speedy trail, no double jeopardy, trial by jury, etc.

144. There is a real concern about access to justice in rural areas. How far can we ask low income persons involved in child in need or care or protection from abuse cases to drive?

b.  Process change (74 comments)

7. Docket fees are too high and some people can’t afford it.

23. Judges should explain how expensive cases will be if they go to trial, and attorneys should do the same.

48. It seems like there is a lot of wasted time while serving jury duty.

62. The Court of Appeals should schedule cases from western Kansas in the afternoon instead of at 9:00 AM, so we would not have to spend the night at a motel.

c.  Money/Vacancies (173 comments)

1. Counties are full of unfunded mandates.

10. Professors and superintendents of schools make more than judges.

18. Finney Co. pays $500,000 for interpreters; can this expense be paid by someone else?

32. Increase court costs. The court costs in Kansas are much lower than many other states around us.

51. To save money, the state would have to merge counties, not just courthouses.

151. County budgets are tight.

d.  Legislature  (57 comments)

7. The fight between the legislature and the supreme court over school finance and death penalty is a problem.

8. More authority should be given back to the counties. They are losing local representation. We need to stop that.

11. The judicial branch is an equal branch of government; Legislature should act like it knows that.

28. The Legislature should not micro-manage a co-equal branch of government by allocating positions, including judges, to particular districts. The Supreme Court should be given the ability to allocate resources, both personnel and financial.

e.  One judge per county (35 comments)

2. Must protect the one judge per county law; it allows access to the judicial system. Local judges should deal with local issues.

16. When politics gets involved in the judiciary, you’ve got problems.

30. It is critically important for a community to have a judge that lives in the community. A judge that resides in a community is more important to the community than one that travels in for court proceedings.

f.  Blue Ribbon Commission (25 comments)

5. This commission was established to take more things away from western Kansas and give to eastern Kansas.

9. Don’t want the BRC to make recommendations that will disenfranchise rural Kansas to take care of the problems in more urban areas.

11. Take a bold proposal back to the Supreme Court – equal access to justice.

g.  Furloughs/staffing (40 comments)

3. The furloughs did tremendous harm: they denied access to the courts, injured the clerks because their work piled up; a good clerk quit because of the furloughs. Furloughs absolutely should not be done. Most harm is done to the people who do the most work for us. More people will quit if the furloughs happen again this year.

11. No incentive to remain on the job given furloughs and low pay.

15. With reduced budgets, there is more cross training underway in the urban districts at least.

h. Other (92 comments)

7. Commission should return the courts to the local people and decentralize the court system. Local decisions need to be respected. Local control is essential.

9. Sedgwick County appoints people to hear some types of cases; these people are neither appointed through a district court nominating commission nor elected by the people.

10. Court re-distribution will cause further population declines in Western Kansas.

21. Need to look for cuts in other areas besides the judicial system which has a huge impact on our quality of life.

29. Pro se litigants need assistance.

33. Rules about published opinions of the Supreme Court of Kansas are not being followed by that Court.

41. Public education about the court system is needed.

56. Look at actions of attorneys and parties. There needs to be more accountability and fines for frivolous lawsuits. The system is bogged down by cases that shouldn’t be there.

85. We feel like we cannot trust Topeka.

Contact: Earl F Glynn, earl@kansaswatchdog.org, KansasWatchdog.org
Reprinting: Kansas Watchdog is a free wire service and we welcome reprinting and only ask for attribution and notification. If you’d like to reprint this story we ask that you e-mail the author with the date the story will run and the outlet name.


Posted under Accountability, Column A, Constitution, Judiciary, Kansas Government, Transparency.
Tags: Blue Ribbon Commission, Kansas Supreme Court, Lawton Nuss, Open Records, Steve Grieb

One Comment For This Post So Far
  1. Claudine Dombrowski
    12:04 Pm On June 16th, 2011

    This is so wrong. I guess they missed the whole ‘transparency’ thing?
    Thanks Kansas Watch Dog and Earl for posting all this information.