Kansas Supreme Court Justice Lee Johnson to retire September 8

Justice Lee Johnson, who has served on the Kansas Supreme Court since 2007, announced today he will retire September 8.

Johnson was appointed to the Supreme Court after serving on the Kansas Court of Appeals from 2001 to 2007.

“It has been a profound honor and privilege to be a part of the highest court in Kansas, as well as the Court of Appeals, and to serve with so many knowledgeable and collegial jurists on both appellate courts,” Johnson said. “For that indescribable experience, I particularly thank Governors Bill Graves and Kathleen Sebelius for taking a chance on a small-town lawyer. I will miss having the opportunity to interact with all of the fine people in the judicial branch.”

Before Johnson became a judge, he practiced law in Caldwell and served as city attorney for Caldwell, Argonia, and Hunnewell. He is a graduate of the Washburn University School of Law, where he ranked second in a class of 211.

Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said Supreme Court justices are losing a valued colleague.

“Justice Johnson’s unique, thoughtful perspectives frequently caused his colleagues to re-examine their own legal positions,” Nuss said. “While his fellow justices did not often change their minds, Justice Johnson’s views usually contributed to more-closely reasoned decisions by the court. It’s a real loss for Kansas.”

Johnson’s retirement triggers a merit-based nomination process that Kansans voted to add to the Kansas Constitution in 1958.

When there is a vacancy on the bench, the Supreme Court Nominating Commission reviews applications and conducts public interviews of nominees. The commission narrows the nominee pool to three names that it sends to the governor. The governor chooses one nominee to appoint.

To be eligible, a nominee must be:

at least 30 years old;

a lawyer admitted to practice in Kansas and engaged in the practice of law for at least 10 years, whether as a lawyer, judge, or full-time teacher at an accredited law school.

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission has nine members. There is one lawyer and one nonlawyer from each of the state’s four congressional districts, plus one lawyer who serves as chairperson. Nonlawyers are appointed by the governor. Lawyers are elected by other lawyers within their congressional districts. The chairperson is elected by lawyers statewide.

When the Supreme Court Nominating Commission reviews nominees for justice, they look at the person’s:

legal and judicial experience
educational background
character and ethics
service to the community
respect of colleagues

Justices must follow the law and not be influenced by politics, special interest groups, public opinion, or their own personal beliefs.

Justices demonstrate their accountability by following a Code of Judicial Conduct that establishes standards of ethical behavior. They also take an oath of office that includes swearing to support, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution and Kansas Constitution.

After a new justice serves one year on the court, he or she must stand for a retention vote in the next general election to remain in the position. If retained, the justice serves a six-year term.

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission is expected to announce its timeline for accepting nominations soon.