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Brownback refuses to reveal nominees

Published on -8/28/2013, 3:12 PM

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By JOHN HANNA

AP Political Writer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's office refused Wednesday to disclose the names of the applicants for a state Court of Appeals seat, blocking an attempt by a critical group to cull a list from the daily calendars of Brownback and several top aides following his nomination of his chief counsel to the job.

Brownback's office responded to an open records request from the League of Women Voters' state chapter, made after his nomination last week of Caleb Stegall to a new position on the state's second-highest court.

The league has said it wants to evaluate statements from the administration that Stegall was the most qualified candidate. But the governor's office removed the other applicants' names from the copies of calendars it released, citing a provision of the Kansas Open Records Act allowing government agencies to keep "individually identifiable" records about "applicants for employment" confidential.

The appointment is the first since a law took effect in July that changed how Court of Appeals judges are selected. Under the old system, which is still in place for spots on the Kansas Supreme Court, a judicial nominating commission led by attorneys screened applicants and named three finalists, with no role for legislators after the governor picked one. Now, the governor appoints appeals court judges, who are subject to Senate confirmation.

The Senate plans to consider Stegall's appointment during a special legislative session that begins Tuesday and was called to fix the state's "Hard 50" criminal sentencing law for convicted murderers. Stegall faced a Wednesday deadline to submit a completed questionnaire and supporting documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The league -- which believes the new selection system is more politicized -- received copies of the daily calendars from July 15 through Aug. 16 for Brownback; Stegall; Landon Fulmer, Brownback's chief of staff, and Kim Borchers, the governor's appointments director. All candidates' names, except for Stegall's, were replaced by blank spaces. After providing almost 140 pages of documents to the league, the governor's office released them to The Associated Press.

Brownback believes that disclosing the names would prevent qualified candidates from coming forward, said his spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley.

"We have always said those names would remain confidential, and we're honoring that promise," she said.

Dolores Furtado, the league's Kansas president and a former Democratic state representative, said its goal is to "have transparency" in the selection process.

Previously, the judicial nominating commission disclosed the names of all applicants and had public interviews, though its deliberations were closed. Supporters of the new selection system contend that it's more transparent because the Senate's deliberations will be public.

But Furtado said, "It is not an opportunity to compare or an opportunity to confirm that this is the most highly qualified person."

The calendars for both Stegall and Borchers show that she had a "judicial interview" with him on Aug. 6, and her schedule listed that she would be present for an interview with the governor on Aug. 14.

Borchers' calendars showed that she had interviews with a total of 13 judicial candidates, including Stegall, over three days, starting Aug. 6. Brownback's calendar showed a two-hour bloc for judicial interviews on Aug. 14.

The calendars did not contain any indication that Stegall was involved in the other candidates' interviews -- though he was involved in interviews for two district court judgeships.

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Online:

Brownback's office: https://governor.ks.gov/

Kansas Court of Appeals: http://bit.ly/13nYLxw

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna

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