The following column comes from House Democratic Leader Paul Davis:
During the 2013 session, much attention has been given to the state’s judicial process. Gov. Brownback has called for dismantling the current Nominating Commission for selecting Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges and placing this authority solely with himself.
While legislative focus has primarily been given to this attempt to hijack an independent process in favor of a political one, another “court packing” scheme by the Brownback administration has been given little notice.
The Legislature is poised to approve legislation being pushed by the Department of Labor that will change the way workers compensation judges are selected and place the appointment of these judges in the hands of corporate and insurance company interests.
Under the current process, a committee of one representative each from business and labor review the qualifications of applicants for work comp administrative law judges and the Workers Comp Court of Appeals. The two sides come to agreement on a candidate and sends to the Secretary of Labor for appointment. The process has removed political influences, created consistency and has produced fair and impartial judges.
Regrettably, the Governor’s administration is asking legislators to change this balanced process that has worked well for 20 years and place the selection of these judges under and subordinate to political influences. Senate Bill 187 creates a seven member nominating committee where corporate interests and workers comp insurance carriers will always have a super-majority on the committee.
The very essence of the judicial process is impartiality. Business and insurance carriers are litigants in the system and have a vested interest in the outcome. Allowing these interests to hand select the judges makes a mockery of the system with judges always looking over their shoulders in deciding cases or risk angering those who control their employment.
The integrity of the judicial process must be preserved for everyone. This newest court packing scheme by the Governor simply does not do that. This legislation not only places the fox in the hen house, but the chickens are outnumbered.
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