By John Celock
Kansas Republicans are calling on the Democratic nominee for governor to cancel a Tuesday evening fundraiser being hosted by the husband of a state Supreme Court justice at their home.
The Kansas GOP released a statement Tuesday called on Davis to cancel the fundraiser being hosted by Richard Green, the husband of Supreme Court Justice Carol Beier, Tuesday in the backyard of the couple’s Topeka home. The fundraiser comes as tensions have heightened between the court and Republicans over decisions by the court in a series of criminal cases. Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) appointed the majority of the current justices. Davis’ opponent, Gov. Sam Brownback (R), has been trying to gain more control over Supreme Court appointments from the state’s judicial nominating commission, which is dominated by attorneys elected by the state Bar.
Kansas Republican Party executive director Clay Barker said in a statement that Davis should be opposing the Supreme Court’s recent decisions to reverse the death penalty for a pair of brothers who murdered and sexually assaulted four in Wichita, along with a case changing state sentencing guidelines. The sentencing guidelines case, which the court clarified last week, is being opposed by state prosecutors who said that it could cause several hundred violent offenders to be released from prison.
“Paul Davis should join every concerned Kansan, parent and law enforcement officer in protesting these questionable decisions by the Kansas Supreme Court,” Barker noted. “Instead, Davis is celebrating these decisions with a fundraiser at the home of Justice Beier.”
Beier told The Celock Report on Tuesday that her husband is hosting the event and she is not involved. She also said she will not be home at the event, which is being described on the invitation as a backyard barbeque with a suggested donation of $20, and will include pulled pork sandwiches, side dishes, beer, wine, iced tea and lemonade.
“My husband is having his event, it’s not mine,” Beier said. “Of course I’m not going to be present at my house.”
When asked if she believes if the event would create the appearance of impropriety, Beier stressed that Green had decided to host the event and was in charge of the planning.
“I’ve taken pains not to be involved,” Beier told The Celock Report.
Kansas’ Canons of Judicial Ethics permit the family members of judges to be involved in politics, but stress that the judge should not be involved.
“A judge or judicial candidate must not become involved in, or publicly associated with, a family member’s political activity or campaign for public office,” Canon 4, Rule 4.1, issued in 2009, states. “To avoid public misunderstanding, judges and judicial candidates should take, and should urge members of their families to take, reasonable steps to avoid any implication that they endorse any family member’s candidacy or other political activity.”
Davis campaign spokesman Chris Pumpelly told The Celock Report that he dismissed the GOP’s opposition as “manufactured outrage” and stressed that Beier was not involved in the planning of the event and would not be at the residence during the event. He also noted that neither Davis nor his lieutenant governor running mate Jill Docking would be in attendance. He noted there is no requirement to donate to the campaign in order to attend.
“There is no donation required to attend, as this an informational meeting hosted by teachers, for teachers, out of concern for the future of Kansas schools after four years of cuts and neglect from Governor Sam Brownback,” Pumpelly said.
Education funding has been a top issue in the gubernatorial election this year with Davis and his allies saying that Brownback has cut school funding statewide. Brownback and Republican lawmakers have fought back by saying that the Republican has increased state funding to education and saying cuts were made by former Gov. Mark Parkinson (D) and were backed by Davis, the state House minority leader, in the Legislature.
Earlier this year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state had to provide more funding to education, based on a lawsuit filed during Parkinson’s administration. The Legislature and Brownback approved a funding increase in a bill that also removed statewide teacher tenure protections and made tenure a decision for local school districts.
Pumpelly also questioned the GOP’s decision to focus on ethics. He cited Brownback’s upcoming appearance with Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who was indicted earlier this year, and a reported FBI investigation into the lobbying activities of Brownback advisor Davis Kensinger.
“So, it’s odd, to say the least, the Kansas Republican Party would want a fight over ethics; then again, they’re understandably desperate to talk about anything other than jobs and schools,” Pumpelly said.
Beier, a former state Court of Appeals judge, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2003 by Sebelius after being recommended by the judicial nominating commission. Under the state constitution, members of the state bar pick the majority of the nominating commission. The nominating commission then presents three names to the governor to appoint a new justice.
Barker described Davis is a former executive director of the Kansas Bar Association, saying that the Democrat was too close to the nominating commission that first recommended Beier to Sebelius. Davis was in his first year in the state House of Representatives when Beier was picked by Sebelius.
The Kansas Bar Association put out a statement Tuesday evening saying that while Davis is a former staff member for the KBA he was not the association’s executive director. The KBA also said that Davis did not “have responsibility to affect any appointments to the judiciary” and was no longer employed at the KBA when Beier was appointed.
Brownback is trying to change the Supreme Court nominating process in order to pick his own judicial nominee with confirmation from the state Senate required. The move is being opposed by Democrats and moderate Republicans. Brownback and his allies have cited a series of rulings for making the change, including on education and crime. Brownback and the GOP-controlled Legislature have already changed the process for nominating Court of Appeals judges to give the governor more control.
Brownback appointed his first Supreme Court justice earlier this month, naming Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall to the court. Stegall, who was recommended by the judicial nominating commission, is a former chief counsel to Brownback in the governor’s office.
“This court is already out of touch with the majority of the state and has lost credibility with its rulings,” Barker said in his statement. “This fundraiser at Justice Beier’s home for Paul Davis is just one more out of touch step by the court. Kansas deserves better from both the court and Paul Davis.”
This story was updated at 9:38 p.m. EDT to reflect the statement from the Kansas Bar Association.