February 10th. Chief Justice Robert Davis delivered his first State of the Judiciary speech to a joint session of the Legislature. He was joined by his five fellow justices and soon to be Justice Biles. Davis gave his speech a few weeks after he succeeded former Chief Justice Kay McFarland upon her retirement. The full text of his address is available here, and an audio file is available here.
Davis’ speech touched upon three themes which he described as Justice, Efficiency and Affordability. In a time of budgetry constraint this was not a surprise. Davis noted that due to the way the Court system is structured in Kansas the money the Legislature pays to the judicial branch is almost entirely salaries, which makes it hard for any budget savings to be arrived at there without a significant impact on the workings of the Courts. He did note that most of the administrative costs of the court system are paid for by the counties and that the court was working on technological solutions to lower those costs through better document management and electronic publication of court materials. He also noted that the courts would soon be able to take credit and debit card payments for filing fees.
Davis also noted that the number of pro-se litigants was increasing and that these cases end up taking more court time and face more procedural problems. As a result of this, and in an attempt to reduce the expense this creates, the court had established a study committee to help these kind of litigants.
These kinds of speech are generally congenial affairs. The only mild controversy within the speech was Davis’ mention of the Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance which provides ratings on Judges prior to retention or general elections. The Commission has been criticized by some as a way for the courts to provide more advantages to incumbent judges, and for endorsing every judge it reviewed in 2008.