The Kansas Court of Appeals heard cases on a drug arrest and teacher pay dispute Tuesday afternoon as part of its Constitution Day celebration at K-State’s Forum Hall.
The traveling court hears cases across the state but makes a special effort to hear cases at schools during September and particularly on Constitution Day. Tuesday’s three-judge panel consisted of Chief Judge Karen Arnold-Burger and judges Henry Green Jr. and Michael Buser. The panel heard two cases in the morning and two cases in the afternoon.
The third case of the day, State of Kansas v. Erika Yazmin Arceo-Rojas, involved a Fourth Amendment question relating to a drug-enforcement traffic stop on I-70 in Geary County in 2016.
Arceo-Rojas and a passenger were driving in the left-hand lane of the highway for approximately three miles when Geary County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Justin Stopper stopped her for driving in the passing lane too long.
At the traffic stop, Stopper issued Arceo-Rojas a warning, but he claimed to have noticed that Arceo-Rojas was acting nervous and that a strong fragrance was coming from the car. Arceo-Rojas also claimed to have been traveling from Washington state to Columbus, Ohio, and Stopper said he found those travel plans inconsistent, especially since they were traveling in a five-day rental car.
After he issued the warning, Stopper took a few steps back to his car before turning around and explaining that he was a drug interdiction officer, and he asked Arceo-Rojas if he could search her car. Arceo-Rojas refused but was detained anyway, and a drug dog found marijuana in the car. She was later convicted of two felonies, despite her motion to suppress the evidence.
Arceo-Rojas’ lawyer, Randall Hodgkinson, argued that the stop was unconstitutional and amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure. He said Stopper’s reason for pulling Arceo-Rojas over — driving too long in the passing lane — was a not a legitimate reason to start questioning her.
Hodgkinson’s second point of contention was that even though Arceo-Rojas had declined to Hopper’s search, he continued to detain her after he had already told her she was free to go. Chief Judge Karen Arnold-Burger called Hopper’s actions a “Columbo pivot” — referring to the titular character of the 1970s police procedural “Columbo.”
Tony Cruz, representing the state, argued that Hopper had both reasonable grounds to initiate the stop and continue it based on his observations in speaking with Arceo-Rojas. Cruz said that it didn’t matter that Hopper had already told Arceo-Rojas she could leave, as he was lying and had already established reasonable enough suspicion to search her car even without her consent.
The fourth case the court heard centered around a contractual dispute between the Geary County Board of Education and the Junction City Education Association.
In 2017, administrators at Junction City High School required several English teachers to teach a remedial reading class twice per week during their seminar periods, which teachers Dustin Delehanty and William Gies Jr. believed entitled them to additional compensation per their contracts.
Vincent Cox, appearing on behalf of Delehanty, Gies and the Junction City Education Association, argued that the reading assignment amounted to duties beyond their agreed upon responsibilities. He said that although the teachers were English teachers, they were not reading specialists and had to take additional training to prepare for the work. The teachers initially appealed through the contract-mandated hearing process with the school board, then appealed to district court, which sided with the school board.
The school board, represented by Mark Edwards, argued that since the teachers were only given the additional responsibilities twice a week, that didn’t amount to a regular, additional and daily class as defined in the contract’s definition of circumstances, which result in additional compensation.
Additionally, the board argued that the board properly acted as a quasi-judicial entity in reviewing the case, and that the district court should not have heard the original appeal because the appellants abandoned their original reason for appeal.
The panel will deliberate on all four cases from Tuesday and will likely issue opinions in the next few weeks.