Leavenworth County commissioners ultimately voted unanimously this week to approve an appointment to the Judicial Nominating Commission for the 1st Judicial District. But commissioners had been divided on the question of who to appoint to the position.

Leavenworth County commissioners ultimately voted unanimously this week to approve an appointment to the Judicial Nominating Commission for the 1st Judicial District. But commissioners had been divided on the question of who to appoint to the position.

The Judicial Nominating Commission interviews applicants for vacancies for district court judges. After interviewing applicants, the commission forwards several nominees to the governor, who appoints someone to fill the vacancy.

The Judicial Nominating Commission meets as needed when there are vacancies in the 1st Judicial District, which is made up of Leavenworth and Atchison counties. The membership of the commission includes lawyers and non-lawyers.

County officials were notified last month that the term of a non-lawyer member, Lois Meadows, from Leavenworth County was set to expire in March.

Douglas Shima, clerk for the Kansas Supreme Court, indicated in a letter to County Clerk Janet Klasinski that Meadows could be reappointed for another four-year term or someone else could be appointed to the position.

County commissioners accepted applications for the position. Five people, including Meadows, submitted applications.

Commissioners voted on the appointment when they met Wednesday. They ended up reappointing Meadows. But two commissioners supported appointing former state Rep. Connie O’Brien to the position.

One of the applicants, Pat Proctor, addressed commissioners during a public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting.

Proctor said he believes many challenges being faced in Kansas are the result of what he called activist judges. He said future judges need to be people who look at laws and the state Constitution as written.

He mentioned last year’s ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that declared access to abortion is a “fundamental right” under the state’s Constitution.

Proctor, who is a candidate for the Kansas House of Representatives, also accused courts of usurping the government’s separation of powers.

He said it is important to have someone on the Judicial Nominating Commission who will ask tough questions.

Proctor said he initially did not know O’Brien also had applied for the position on the commission. Proctor said he wanted to withdraw his name from consideration and endorse O’Brien for the position.

O’Brien previously served eight years as a Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives.

Another member of the public, Donna Gillett, also spoke in favor of appointing O’Brien to the position. Gillett said O’Brien would reflect the family values and principals of people in the 1st Judicial District and be dedicated to a strict interpretation of the law and Constitution.

County Attorney Todd Thompson also addressed commissioners.

Thompson said he was attending Wednesday’s meeting for another matter but decided to speak about the Judicial Nominating Commission.

Thompson, who serves on the Judicial Nominating Commission, said he thought there may have been ignorance on Proctor’s part about the judicial selection process. Thompson said the appointment under consideration Wednesday was for a group that only looks at applicants for district level judges.

“It’s just about who would do the best job,” Thompson said.

He said decisions such as the abortion ruling do not occur at the district court level.

“Those opinions go up higher,” he said.

He said those types of decisions come from the Kansas Court of Appeals or Supreme Court.

Commissioner Mike Stieben said citizens may want to make sure conservative judges are appointed.

He said the district court serves as “kind of a pipeline” for the appellate court appointments.

Thompson said attorneys do not have to serve as a district court judge in order to serve on the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court.

Whether or not a person is conservative should not be a factor if people are looking for non-activist judges, Thompson said.

Thompson later said he has no plans to seek an appointment as a judge.

“I really love my job, so I do not want to be a judge,” he said.

O’Brien also addressed commissioners. She cited her experience as a lawmaker who dealt with legislation involving children. She said children need to be kept safe.

“They need protection all the way around,” she said.

Commission Chairman Doug Smith said applicants for the position on the Judicial Nominating Commission were “all very qualified.”

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz made a motion to reappoint Meadows to another term.

Stieben asked how county commissioners would handle more than one nomination for the position. He noted that commissioners previously had used ballots when selecting members of the Leavenworth County Planning Commission.

Each commissioner ended up writing the name of the applicant he or she supported on a sheet of paper.

County Administrator Mark Loughry reviewed the ballots. He indicated a majority, Smith, Kaaz and Commissioner Jeff Culbertson, supported the reappointment of Meadows.

Loughry said Stieben and Commissioner Chad Schimke supported appointing O’Brien.

Senior County Counselor David Van Parys said commissioners needed to formalize the appointment with a vote.

Kaaz once again made a motion to approve the reappointment of Meadows. The motion was approved 5-0.

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