Q: I don’t know anything about the judges up for retention. How am I supposed to know who to vote for?
A: It’s true, the list of judges up for retention comes near the end of the ballot, almost and is almost an afterthought for some voters.
Unlike the other offices, judgeships are not contested, and the candidates are all incumbents. How does a voter know whether to check yes or no?
Well, we’ve got a little bit of information for you.
First, some background. Kansas uses the merit selection system for most district court judges. When there’s a vacancy, a nominating commission that includes lawyers and non-lawyers in the district chooses candidates to send to the governor, who appoints a judge.
Those judges stand for retention after their first year in office and then every four years. The only local judge on the ballot, Kendra Lewison is one of those first-year judges. In September 2019, she became the first female judge for Riley County District Court (technically the 21st Judicial District, which includes Clay County) when she took the seat left by Judge Meryl Wilson, who retired.
Similarly, Kansas’ seven Supreme Court judges are selected by the governor from a list of three candidates provided by a judicial nominating commission consisting of five lawyers and four nonlawyers. They, too, stand for retention after their first year in office and then every six years.
For the Court of Appeals, which has 14 judges, the governor may nominate any licensed attorney between the ages of 30 and 70, and the Kansas Senate confirms the nominee. Court of Appeals judges stand for retention after their first year in office and every four years thereafter.
What follows is a bio of every judge on the ballot. For the statewide judges, we’re also including a rating from the Johnson County Bar Association, which is based on a survey from 415 lawyers. It included factors like impartiality, communication and professionalism. The percentage shows how many respondents believe the judge should be retained. We’re using that rating because it’s the only one available.
Here are the judges, in the order they appear on the ballot:
Kansas Supreme Court
94% approval rating
Prior to his appointment, Rosen served as a judge on the Shawnee County District Court. In 2002, he was appointed to the Kansas Sentencing Commission.
He was appointed to the court in 2005 by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Judge Sarah E. Warner
100% approval rating
Warner grew up in Pittsburg. She earned four bachelor’s degrees at the University of Kansas and attended law school in Michigan, graduating magna cum laude. After serving as the sole chambers attorney of the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, she entered private practice in Lawrence, where she worked until her appointment to the Court of Appeals. She also has taught as an adjunct professor at Washburn Law School since 2009.
Appointed to the court in 2019 by Gov. Laura Kelly.
Judge David E. Bruns
100% approval rating
Bruns is a Kansas City, Kansas, native. He graduated from the University of Kansas and Washburn University School of Law. After a private practice career in Topeka, he was appointed a Shawnee County district judge, where he served until his appointment to the Court of Appeals. He was appointed to the court in 2011 by Gov. Sam Brownback.
Judge G. Gordon
86% approval rating
Atcheson joined the court after a 29-year career as a litigator handling both civil and criminal matters. He represented clients in trial and appellate courts in Kansas and in federal courts across the county, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Since joining the court, Judge Atcheson has participated in the decision of more than 1,500 cases. He was appointed to the court in 2010 by Gov. Mark Parkinson.
Chief Judge Karen
89% approval rating
Arnold-Burger is a fourth-generation Kansan born in Kansas City, Kansas. She attended Johnson County Community College and the University of Kansas for her undergraduate degrees and earned a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law. She worked as a municipal and federal prosecutor and then as a municipal judge before being named to the Kansas Court of Appeals. She became chief judge in 2017. She was appointed to the court in January 2011 by Gov. Parkinson.
Judge Kathryn A.
83% approval rating
Gardner served as a research attorney for a judge on the Court of Appeals, as a law clerk for a federal judge, as an assistant attorney general for the State of Kansas, and as a litigator in private practice before her appointment to the Court of Appeals. She was appointed to the court in 2015 by Gov. Brownback.
21st Judicial District Court, Division II
Judge Kendra Lewison
Lewison practiced law for 24 years prior to her appointment as District Judge in 2019. She is a 1992 graduate of Kansas State University and a 1995 graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law. She practiced in the Kansas City area until 2009 when she moved back to Manhattan, and was working as an assistant Riley County attorney from 2010 until her appointment to the bench. She has served on the boards of several community organizations.