Jessica M. Karmasek Sep. 13, 2013, 2:30pm

TOPEKA, Kan. (Legal Newsline) -- Last week, the Kansas Senate confirmed Gov. Sam Brownback's nomination of attorney Caleb Stegall to fill a vacancy on the state's Court of Appeals.

The Senate, in a vote held during a special legislative session Sept. 4, confirmed Stegall 32-8.

According to Brownback's office, Stegall has "considerable" legal experience. He has served as chief counsel to the governor since 2011 and was the top prosecutor in Jefferson County.

"If confirmed by the Senate, Caleb will be one of the most -- if not the most -- qualified person to sit on the Kansas Court of Appeals in the past decade," Brownback said of his nominee in August.

"His history of academic accomplishment, broad private sector experience and success, commitment to public service, temperament, character and peer support is without equal."

Stegall will fill the 14th seat on the appeals court, which was created in July.

"I am deeply grateful to and for my wife Ann, my great kids and my parents," Stegall said in accepting the nomination last month.

"I look forward to working with Gov. Brownback and the Senate as we move forward in this process. I am honored to continue serving my fellow Kansans and the state I love."

The position is the first to be filled through a new law approved by the 2013 Kansas Legislature and signed into law by Brownback on July 1.

Under the new law, enacted in March, the clerk of the state Supreme Court is required to give prompt notice of a vacancy to the governor, who must then make an appointment within 60 days.

If the governor does not make the appointment within 60 days, the chief justice of the Supreme Court will appoint a qualified person for the position.

The Kansas Senate then must vote to confirm the appointment within 60 days of being received.

If the Senate is not in session and will not be in session within the 60-day time limit, it must confirm the appointment within 20 days of the next session.

If the Senate fails to vote within the time limit, its consent will be deemed given.

If the appointee does not receive a majority vote in the Senate, the governor would appoint another qualified person within 60 days, and the same consent procedure would be followed.

"This is not about controlling judges," Brownback said in March. "Judicial independence is vital and necessary for fair and just rulings from our courts. But judicial independence must rest firmly on the consent of the people. Public confidence is the best and only hedge around the independent judgments of our courts.

"We must give all Kansans an equal voice, whether directly or indirectly through elected representatives, in choosing our judicial leaders."

Prior to the new law, Court of Appeals judges were chosen by merit selection.

Under merit selection, a panel of lawyers and non-lawyers interviews applicants to be judges, checks their references and sends the most qualified finalists to the governor. The governor then selects one of the finalists to fill the vacancy.

The new process -- also known as the "federal process" -- is similar to how justices for the U.S. Supreme Court are appointed.

Brownback, a Republican, has promised his process would be open and transparent.

However, he has kept applicants' names secret, drawing the ire of many, including former state lawmakers and special interest groups.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, one of the many displeased, said last week he plans to submit legislation for the 2014 session requiring Brownback to make public the names of judicial applicants and the cities in which they reside.

Hensley, a Democrat, opposed Stegall's nomination, saying the process was too secretive.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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