TOPKEA — Gov. Laura Kelly nominated a southeast Kansas district court judge who served as a state legislator Friday to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Court of Appeals.
The selection of Jeffry Jack, a former Kansas House member who has been a trial judge since 2005, was the Democratic governor’s first to an appellate court vacancy. In a departure from unilateral nomination of Court of Appeals judges by governors since state law changed in 2013, Kelly established an advisory panel to consider more than 15 applicants and nominate three finalists.
“Our judges must ensure that every Kansan who encounters our courts is treated fairly under the law,” Kelly said. “That requires integrity, impartiality and a sense of how our courts impact the lives of Kansans every day. Judge Jack will bring those qualities to the Court of Appeals.”
The governor said Jack’s experience as a legislator involved in creating law, an attorney in private practice and a judge in presiding over legal disputes was a factor in her selection. She said discussions with applicants didn’t delve into personal views on volatile issues, including abortion, that come before state appellate courts.
Jack, 57, was raised in Altamont and graduated in 1983 from Harvard University. He earned a law degree at University of Kansas and began his legal career at Dearth & Markham in Parsons. In 2002, he was elected to the Kansas House. Then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed him to the district court in 2005. He resides about 10 miles from Parsons in Labette County.
“While I know my experience has prepared me for this position,” Jack said, “I look forward to working with and learning from the example of judges who have come before me.”
At the Capitol, Jack said he recalled having a few of his trial court decisions reversed by judges of the Court of Appeals.
“Judges are not infallible. That’s one reason there are three judges on a Court of Appeals panel. You get more eyes and brains on the issue,” Jack said. “As a district court, judge I don’t feel bad if I’m reversed by the Court of Appeals. I made the decision that I thought was right. If they disagree, that’s fine.”
Pending confirmation by the Kansas Senate, Jack would fill the vacancy created by retirement of Court of Appeals Judge Patrick McAnany. The Senate has 60 days to act on the nomination.
In 2013, then-Gov. Sam Brownback championed replacement of the nominating commission process that required governors to choose from three finalists without Senate confirmation. Brownback preferred the federal model of judicial selection in which the governor unilaterally picked judges for the Court of Appeals without intervention of a merit review by an outside commission naming finalists.
Kelly, who voted against the Brownback judicial reform, said she preferred the old merit-selection process of weighing applicants for the Court of Appeals. The committee voluntarily appointed by the governor submitted a list of finalists with Jack, Marcia Wood of Wichita and Sarah Warner of Lenexa.
“One of my first acts after my election was to create a committee of knowledgeable lawyers and non-lawyers to recommend finalists for the Court of Appeals vacancy,” she said. “That committee ensured that our next Court of Appeals judge would be selected through an open process based on merit.”