My colleague Stephen Ware (8/23, Letters) says the Johnson County judicial nominating process is “controversial” because of “its secrecy and the way it favors lawyers.” These words, along with “accountability,” are buzz words of the Federalist Society, of which Ware is a spokesman. Only lawyers can be district judges. The Johnson County system for selecting lawyers to hold these positions starts with a commission of 14, half of whom are lawyers and half not. It does not give lawyers “tremendous power” and non-lawyers less. It gives them equal power. There is nothing controversial about that. If by “secrecy” Ware means that the discussions of the candidates’ qualifications do not take place in public, what can be controversial about that? Does any organization discuss personnel matters publicly? As for accountability, the fact that the lawyers selected as judges must face periodic retention elections provides direct public accountability. That few judges are rejected in such elections means that the system has been successful in producing the kind of fair and competent judges Johnson Countians want and need.
Can that be controversial? Perhaps, to those who oppose fair and competent judges.
Robert C. Casad
Professor of Law Emeritus,
University of Kansas
As a non-attorney member of Johnson County’s Judicial Nominating Commission, the letter written by KU law professor Stephen Ware was of considerable interest, particularly because of his exaggerated view of the supposed “secrecy” of the nominating process and how lawyer members of the commission dominate it. I’ve served on the commission for more than five years. We publicize the names of applicants, interview them in open, public sessions and seek input from attorneys and lay people in Johnson County. Our only deliberations not on the record are specific discussions regarding the individual applicants for judge. Our votes are by secret ballot, ensuring no intimidation or political pressuring. The commission has seven lawyers and seven lay citizens, the latter appointed by the elected Board of County Commissioners. The lawyers bring a specialized knowledge of what makes a good judge, but they hardly dominate the discussions, nor do they gang up on us lay people.