Ethics Require Recusal in School Finance Lawsuit

We should be thankful that there are people like Karl Peterjohn to tell us of things like the conflict of interest he reports in this article. An important question we should be asking is why our newspapers and other news media in Kansas have not reported this.

Ethics Require Recusal in School Finance Lawsuit
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director of Kansas Taxpayers Network

The Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments again in the school finance lawsuit brought against the state by 15 Kansas school districts. The May 11 oral arguments will eventually be followed by a written decision by the court.

On January 3, 2005 the court delivered an unsigned 3 1/2 page edict that created a fair amount of head scratching at the statehouse over what exactly the court meant at that time. Now that the court has shrunk with the death of one judge, Justice Gernon, the Kansas Supreme Court’s six remaining members will be deciding this case. However, there is a problem with one of the judges.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s second canon of rules requires that its members, “shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”

This rule goes on to state, “A judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.” These are important principles for the administration of justice in this state.

These rules bring us to Justice Don Allegrucci, a long time member of the Kansas Supreme Court who needs to recuse himself from this case because of his family situation. Justice Allegrucci’s wife Joyce is Governor Sebelius’ Chief of Staff. His son, Scott, has until recently been a high level appointed official in the state Department of Commerce.

Governor Sebelius’ position on the school finance law is clear. April 5 she said, “I believe the legislature’s school funding plan is neither responsible nor sustainable.” Governor Sebelius criticized the legislature for not increasing state public school spending by more than the $140 million approved by the 2005 legislature. Sebelius has clearly sided with the plaintiff’s position in this lawsuit. That is fine in a political, public policy debate but is problematic with her chief of staff’s husband being on the court where this case is being litigated. Judge Allegrucci needs to recuse himself from this lawsuit.

Governor Sebelius is still hoping to get her package of proposed property, income, and sales tax hikes enacted into law so that state spending will begin growing faster. This is in addition to the rapid 7.3 percent increase in state spending that was approved by the 2005 legislature. The legislature’s budget, which largely followed the governor’s guidelines, puts this state within a few million of having the first $5 billion General Fund budget. This would be another state spending record in addition to having the first All Funds state budget that exceeds $11 billion too.

Justice Allegrucci is no stranger to politics either. In 1978 Allegrucci was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the Kansas fifth district congressional seat. That is why the complaint by the Kansas Supreme Court in their January decision complaining about statehouse politics was laughable. While everyone admits to politics at the statehouse there is certainly more than a significant amount of politics, albeit conducted largely outside of public view, when it comes to the courts and judicial appointments dominated by the Kansas bar and the appointment committee dominated by members of the bar.

The family ties that Justice Allegrucci has to the Sebelius administration indicate that he should recuse himself in the name of impartiality from the school finance litigation as called out by the court’s own canon and rules. Justice Allegrucci’s continued participation in this school finance lawsuit raises a host of troubling ethical problems about judicial impartiality with his family ties to Governor Sebelius’ administration.


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