Barton County District Judge Hannelore Kitts will be a part of history.
Kitts and Dickinson County Judge Benjamin Sexton will be sitting with the state Supreme Court in its ground-breaking session April 13 in Salina as it hears appeals of four matters on the Court’s docket. The hearing marks the first session in which the Supreme Court is presiding at a location other than Topeka.
The sessions, which will be conducted beginning at 1:30 p.m. in Room 107 in the Salina City County Building, are part of an on-going judicial outreach program in which the justices are reaching out to Kansas citizens across the state to educate and inform them of the operations of their highest court.
Besides being open to the public, the oral arguments will be audio-streamed via the judicial branch website, www.kscourts.org. Additionally, a brochure explaining the high court’s procedures and operations, as well as summaries of the matters on appeal, are available at the courthouse and will be distributed at the afternoon-long session.
“I consider this a real honor,” Kitts said. “This doesn’t happen every day.”
The call from the Supreme Court office came out of the blue last week. “It was a surprise,” she said.
Kitts said she expects to have some homework to do prior to the session.
The Supreme Court designated Kitts and Sexton to join them in place of Justices Carol A. Beier and Nancy Moritz, who recused in the case of Cory Saylor v. Westar Energy Inc., which is a petition for review of a Court of Appeals decision. The judges will hear oral arguments in a case involving a worker’s compensation appeal and then participate in the high court deliberations and opinion drafting.
Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss said the district judges were designated to join them for the appeal based on their reputation and years of scholarly work as good district court judges. “We are especially appreciative of their willingness to take time from their busy dockets to assist the Supreme Court in deciding this appeal.”
Kitts was appointed to her current position as district judge by former Gov. Bill Graves in 1995. Since that time, she has been handling criminal cases in Barton County and civil and criminal cases in the other counties of the 20th Judicial District, including Barton, Ellsworth, Rice, Russell and Stafford counties.
Sexton was appointed to the bench in January 2001, also by Gov. Graves. A 1983 graduate of Kansas State University, he received his law degree from the Washburn University School of Law in 1986. He was engaged in private practice upon his graduation until his judicial appointment.
The Supreme Court’s outreach program was launched last summer when the justices traveled across the state to conduct departmental meetings with their assigned local judges from each of the state’s 31 judicial districts. Following those meetings, the Court appointed two committees of judges and judicial branch employees to coordinate performance of a weighted case load study.
The Court also appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission of citizens to study court operations and make recommendations for improvements in access and administration of justice in Kansas. “Commission members will conduct a series of 18 public hearings throughout the state to hear concerns and suggestions for improving court operations locally and statewide,” Nuss said.
“We have authorized the Blue Ribbon Commission to consider such issues as the number of court locations needed to provide access to justice, the services to be provided in each court location, hours of operation, appropriate use of technology, cost containment or reductions, and flexibility in the use of human resources,” he said. “However, the Commission is not limited to those subjects and has the authority to review other operational efficiencies associated with the court system.”
“The Commission’s upcoming public hearings and our travel to Salina are two major components of the judicial outreach program,” the chief justice said. He added that the results of the weighted caseload study will be taken into consideration when the Blue Ribbon Commission makes its recommendations.
In addition to oral arguments scheduled for the afternoon of April 13, the Court will meet informally with judges and attorneys during their stay in Salina. Cases being argued that afternoon include three criminal cases and an appeal in a workers’ compensation case. After the oral arguments are concluded that afternoon, the appeals will be taken under advisement with decisions to be filed later in the office of the Clerk of Appellate Courts.