14 judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals sit for a portrait.
Kansans will vote Nov. 8 on whether to retain seven of the 14 judges who sit on the Kansas Court of Appeals. Judges with an asterisk (*) will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. Front row left to right: Henry W. Green Jr.*, Chief Judge Karen Arnold-Burger and Thomas E. Malone*. Middle row left to right: David Bruns, Stephen D. Hill*, G. Gordon Atcheson and Anthony Powell (retired June 30, 2022). Back row left to right: Jacy J. Hurst*, Amy Fellows Cline*, Kathryn A. Gardner, Kim R. Schroeder*, Sarah Warner, Lesley Ann Isherwood* and Angela Coble. Photo courtesy of the Office of Judicial Administration. Credit: (Courtesy the Office of Judicial Administration)

Elections for high-profile judicial positions like state Supreme Court justices get a lot of attention, and for good reason. The court issues consequential decisions on fundamental questions of democracy, like redistricting and abortion rights, so there’s a lot at stake. 

But nearly everyone who interacts with the courts only ever does so at the trial court level and below, giving these lower-level courts an outsized influence in the daily lives of Kansans. 

Most cases that enter the Kansas judicial system never make it beyond district courtrooms. Of the more than 400,000 cases filed in Kansas district courts in 2019 (the most recent data available), less than half of 1 percent were appealed to a higher court. 

Judges who issue decisions in these cases are accountable to voters – but how and when  depends on where they live.

There are four different judicial selection processes that apply to Kansas judges: one for the Kansas Supreme Court, another to the appellate court and two for district courts in Kansas. For voters, that can get confusing. 

The Beacon explains which judges will appear on ballots across the state (voters can preview their ballots using the state’s VoterView portal) and what your vote means. 

How you vote on district court judges depends on where you live

The lower level trial courts are divided into 31 districts drawn along county boundaries. Sedgwick County, Johnson County and Wyandotte County each have their own district court. Less populated areas of Kansas have as many as seven counties in a single district. Voters can look up their judicial district on the state judiciary’s website

Voters in 14 judicial districts — including Sedgwick County’s 18th Judicial District and Wyandotte County’s 29th Judicial District — vote for their judges in partisan, competitive elections. In these elections, judges run under a political party and may face political opponents. This year, however, none of the district judges on the November ballot for either county has an opponent, so they will appear as sole candidates for that seat, with space for voters to write in someone else if they wish.

Voters in the other 17 judicial districts — including Johnson County’s 10th Judicial District — vote to retain their judges through nonpartisan, noncompetitive elections. These districts use a merit selection process, where judges are nominated by that district’s judicial selection commission and appointed by the governor. Voters will be asked to vote “yes” if they want the judge to retain their office, or vote “no” if they want to vacate that seat at the end of the judge’s term so it may be filled by a new appointee.

All district court judges appear on the ballot for the first time in the general election that occurs at least one year after their appointment, and every four years thereafter.

Why are the processes different? 

The split in district court judicial selection processes happened after the state’s constitution was amended in 1972, giving voters local control over which selection process to use. Before the 1972 amendment, all trial court judges in Kansas were selected by partisan elections.

The different options were offered to voters to ensure the judiciary reflected the population they served, said Lou Mulligan, professor at the University of Kansas School of Law. “Different counties were concerned that (the judicial selection process) was going to empower different political actors coming from different parties in ways that would not be reflective of their county,” Mulligan said. “It was a political compromise based on what these different areas wanted.”

But just because judges may run in what are called “competitive elections” doesn’t mean they actually compete. District judge candidates running on party tickets rarely face challengers. Mulligan said this is likely due to consensus-building that often happens out of public view among the small group of people qualified to run for a district judge position. “You get to have cultural norms around these things, as well as political realities in particular places,” Mulligan said.

How are appellate judges selected?

Since 2013, judges to Kansas’ appellate court have been selected using the “federal model,” in which judges are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Voters get to decide whether they stay on the bench in the general election that follows their first year on the bench, and every four years after that.

There is no requirement for the governor to use a nominating commission to choose candidates for the appeals court — the commission was abolished in 2013 when the judicial selection process was rewritten by state lawmakers. But Gov. Laura Kelly reestablished a commission for the appellate court by issuing two executive orders in 2020. It will be up to a future governor to decide whether to use a nominating commission for future appellate court appointees.

The Senate usually approves the governor’s appointees — five of Kelly’s seven nominees received unanimous or near-unanimous support from senators — but there have been times when disagreements over potential judges raised questions about possible politicization of the court’s appointment process. Twice, the Senate did not  confirm Carl Folsom, one of Kelly’s nominees for the appeals court, drawing a rare public rebuke of lawmakers’ conduct during the confirmation process from conservative state Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall. 

When lawmakers reconvene in January, they will have the chance once again to confirm, or not, another of Kelly’s appointees. In August, Kelly named Rachel Pickering, a district court judge in Shawnee County, to replace appellate judge Tony Powell, who retired in June. If Pickering is confirmed, she will first appear on the ballot for a retention vote in 2024. 

Which Kansas judges are on the ballot in November? 

In addition to six members of the state Supreme Court up for a retention vote in November, here are the remaining judges who will appear on ballots Nov. 8. All Kansas voters will see all appellate justices on their ballots, but only district court judges for the judicial district in which they reside.

Kansas Appellate Court judges facing a retention vote on the Nov. 8 ballot:

Of the 14 seats on the Kansas Court of Appeals, seven are on the ballot in November. One seat is vacant following Tony Powell’s retirement. 

Stephen D. Hill, Position 1: Official biography | Ballotpedia
Lesley Ann Isherwood, Position 2: Official biography | Ballotpedia
Amy Fellows Cline, Position 3: Official biography | Ballotpedia
Kim R. Schroeder, Position 5: Official biography | Ballotpedia
Henry W. Green Jr., Position 7: Official biography | Ballotpedia
Tom Malone, Position 11: Official biography | Ballotpedia
Jacy J. Hurst, Position 13: Official biography | Ballotpedia

Judicial District 10 (Johnson County) judges on the Nov. 8 ballot:

Of the 23 judges and magistrates in the District 10 court, 14 are on the ballot in November. Six positions not on the ballot this year — three newly created and three retirements — are expected to be filled by the end of the year. 

Keven M.P. O’Grady, Division 1: Official website | Ballotpedia
Rhonda K. Mason, Division 4: Official website | No Ballotpedia page available
Erica K. Schoenig, Division 5: Official website | Ballotpedia
David W. Hauber, Division 7: Official website | Ballotpedia
Christina Dunn Gyllenborg, Division 9: Official website | Ballotpedia
Kathleen L. Sloan, Division 10: Official website | Ballotpedia
K. Christopher Jayaram, Division 12: Official website | No Ballotpedia page available
Michael P. Joyce, Division 15: Official website | Ballotpedia
Neil B. Foth, Division 16: Official website | Ballotpedia
Thomas Kelly Ryan, Division 17: Official website | Ballotpedia
Timothy P. McCarthy, Division 18: Official website | Ballotpedia
Jacquelyn Ellen Rokusek, Division 19: Official website | No Ballotpedia page available
Jenifer J. Ashford, Magistrate Position 1: Official website | No Ballotpedia page available
Robert G. Scott, Magistrate Position 2: Official website | No Ballotpedia page available

Judicial District 18 (Sedgwick County) judges on the November ballot:

Of the 18th Judicial District’s 28 sitting judges, eight will appear on the ballot, plus three new positions that have yet to be filled. All judicial candidates in the 18th District are unopposed Republican incumbents, with the exception of three candidates for newly created positions: two trial court judges and one magistrate judge. These three appear on the ballot for the first time this year. An asterisk (*) indicates a nonincumbent candidate for a new position.

Robb W. Rumsey, Republican, Division 4: Official website | Ballotpedia
Seth L. Rundle, Republican, Division 5: Official website | Ballotpedia
Rodger L. Woods, Republican, Division 7: Official website | Ballotpedia
Richard A. “Rick” Macias, Republican, Division 8: Official website | Ballotpedia
David J. Kaufman, Republican, Division 15: Official website | Ballotpedia
Linda Kirby, Republican, Division 17: Official website | Ballotpedia
Faith Maughan, Republican, Division 18: Official website | Ballotpedia
Michael Hoelscher, Republican, Division 19: Official website | Ballotpedia
Shawn Elliott*, Republican, Division 29: No official website available | Ballotpedia
Francessca Montes-Williams*, Republican, Division 30: No official website available | Ballotpedia
Jesse Burris*, Republican, Magistrate Position 1: No official judicial website available | Ballotpedia

Judicial District 29 (Wyandotte County) judges on the November ballot:

Of the 29th Judicial District’s 16 judicial positions, eight will appear on the ballot in November. The district does not provide individual web pages for its judges; a listing of all judges can be found on the district’s website. All candidates are unopposed Democratic incumbents with the exception of Candice Alcaraz, who defeated incumbent judge Wes Griffin in the August primary. 

Note: Due to conflicting public information on the division assigned to each judge in the 29th Judicial District, The Beacon did not include each judicial candidate’s division alongside their name. This section will be updated with each judge’s division once The Beacon is able to confirm the most accurate information. 

Delia Maria York, Democrat: Ballotpedia
William P. Mahoney, Democrat: Ballotpedia
Tony Martinez, Democrat: Ballotpedia
Kate Lynch, Democrat: Ballotpedia
Bill L. Klapper, Democrat: Ballotpedia
Timothy L. Dupree, Democrat: Ballotpedia
Candice Alcaraz, Democrat: No Ballotpedia page available
Aaron T. Roberts, Democrat: Ballotpedia

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Miranda Moore covers the Kansas Statehouse and state government for The Wichita Beacon. Follow her on Twitter @Miranda_Writes1.