Gov. Laura Kelly announced Monday she would again nominate longtime state and federal public defender Carl Folsom III for a seat on the Kansas Court of Appeals, despite the Senate rejecting him for a separate vacancy earlier this year.
At a Statehouse news conference, Kelly praised Folsom’s work as a public defender, saying that he rose above the other finalists put forth by the Court of Appeals Nominating Commission and was "without a doubt the most qualified person for the job."
The move comes following the retirement of Judge Steve Leben in February to accept a teaching position at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.
"Carl proved during the interview process that he knows the struggle of Kansans who face economic insecurity," Kelly said. "He knows the challenges in our criminal justice system and as a public defender he was willing to go the extra mile to protect Kansans fundamental right to an attorney."
Folsom had been previously nominated for a separate seat on the bench but fell three votes shy of being approved by the Senate during that body’s special session in June.
Some members cited Folsom’s credentials as too narrow for the position. Others said his political beliefs would affect his partiality as a jurist.
Seven Republicans joined Democrats in supporting Folsom’s nomination, which passed on an 18-17 vote but fell three votes short of the 21-vote threshold to confirm.
"I do believe we are maybe unfairly characterizing his experience as a public defender," said Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia. "If we do not recognize the value of public defenders in our justice system then I think we have no justice system."
Kelly said that some members had privately told her they "regret" the way they voted and that Folsom’s chances the second time around would be better.
"I fully expect that the Senate will come back and do the right thing this time," she said.
But Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, a chief critic of Folsom’s record, said that wasn’t the case.
"No means no and the vote of the Senate speaks for itself," she said in a phone interview.
The governor was strident in her criticism of the Senate’s actions, calling them "political games." Her ire was matched by the Kansas Bar Association, which said the vote came in "stark contrast" to the ideal of an independent judiciary.
Folsom’s work as a federal public defender in Oklahoma and Kansas in particular drew pushback from senators, including his work on behalf of a client seeking to appeal his child pornography conviction.
In addition to his current federal work, Folsom worked for the Kansas Appellate Defender’s Office and also presently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Kansas School of Law.
If Folsom is again rejected, the Court of Appeals Nominating Commission, which screens potential judicial nominees, will pick another candidate to be considered alongside the previous two finalists.
All Kansas counties now reporting COVID-19 cases
The state saw 1,545 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Monday, in addition to seven new deaths attributed to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Monday also brought the revelation that the two remaining counties in the state that hadn’t yet announced cases — Rawlins and Wallace counties — were now reporting infections.
The news wasn’t welcome, Kelly said, especially with students in the state returning to school in the coming weeks.
"It was a bad weekend," she said.
The results include six clusters of cases at colleges and universities in the state, including over 80 students who tested positive at the University of Kansas. One college student in the state had been hospitalized with multi-system inflammatory syndrome, a rare condition that causes inflammation in vital organs.
"As more schools begin to open we must be more diligent," Kelly said of mitigation tactics.