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Search for county attorney candidate a bust
No filings for post a concern for officials
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A successful, qualified county attorney write-in candidate emerging from the Nov. 3 general election will render moot the fact that no one has filed for the post. But, Dick Friedeman lamented to the Barton County Commission Monday morning that he isn’t holding out much hope.

“We’re in kind of a jam here,” he said. Current County Attorney Levi Morris, a Republican, waged an unsuccessful bid for a 20th Judicial District judge seat and will thus be forced to abdicate the job at the end of the year.

Friedeman, chairman of the Barton County Republican Central Committee, had engaged in a fruitless search to recruit a candidate, be they Republican or Democrat. He asked to address commissioners during their Monday study session.

“I tried and I failed,” he said. “I spent quite a bit of time calling people.”

A county attorney doesn’t have to be a county resident, so he took his hunt to a regional level. Still nothing.

Friedeman conducted his search when Morris was appointed to fill the two years remaining on the unexpired term of Amy Mellor when she resigned in December 2018.

How it works

According to Donna Zimmerman, county clerk and election officer, the job would belong to the top vote-getting write-in candidate, providing they want it. If the winner declines, the post remains open since it doesn’t fall to the candidate with the second-most votes.

If there is no interest in the office, Zimmerman said it is unclear what comes next. She  sought guidance from the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office, which coordinates state elections, and received a response from State Elections Director Bryan Caskey Monday afternoon. 

They contemplated three different scenarios:

• The person with the highest number of write-in votes is not qualified or is a fictitious name.

• The person with the highest number of write-in votes does not want the job and will not be sworn-in on the second Monday in January 2021.

• The person with the highest number of write-in votes wants the job and is qualified.

In both scenarios one and two, there would be a vacancy in the office when the current officeholder vacates his position. Because Morris is a Republican, The Republican Party would convene a convention, select a candidate and forward that name to the governor for appointment.

Why the difficulty?

“This isn’t what I expected,” Friedeman said. “I guess the world was different than I thought it was.”

First, the job pays $84,500 per year. “I thought that would get you a pretty good county attorney,” he said.

But, “obviously, I was wrong,” he said. “You’re not paying enough.”

One person he spoke with put it this way: “You have big city problems and small city resources.”

Second, the pool of attorneys in western Kansas is dwindling, said County Counselor Patrick Hoffman. Hoffman is an attorney in Ellsworth and has seen similar problems in Ellsworth County.

“The woods aren’t full people wanting this job,” Friedeman agreed. “And I was out beating around the woods and I wasn’t finding anybody.”

Lastly, there is a “crazy level of specialization” among lawyers, he said. There was a time when serving as county attorney would be a good springboard for a young attorney’s legal career.

“My perception is that is no longer true,” Friedeman said. The job has gotten more complex and not just any attorney can, or wants, to do it.

Meanwhile, everyone has to wait for the election. “To me, that the big question hanging over a lot of these discussions,” Hoffman said. 

“There will be some write-in votes,” Friedeman said. He doesn’t like leaving it to “potluck,” with the chance of getting an inappropriate candidate.

He suggested putting forth a “stand-in” candidate who they knew would decline the job.