Races underway for Supreme Court nominating commission

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Races for seats on the panel that screens state Supreme Court justices are coming down to the wire as balloting ends Saturday.

A battle is playing out for chairman of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission between two lawyers with ties to the Foulston Siefkin law firm.

Gloria Farha Flentje

Current nominating commission member Gloria Farha Flentje, who practiced at Foulston for 20 years, is running against Gary Ayers, a partner at the Foulston Siefkin law firm for more than 40 years.

Meanwhile, four others — Jennifer Marie Hill of Wichita, James Roy Howell of Andover, Jeff Kennedy of Wichita and Thomas J. Lasater of Wichita — are seeking election to the 4th Congressional District seat on the panel.

The deadline for balloting is May 15, and votes will be tallied May 19.

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission is made up of five lawyers and four nonlawyers and recommends three names to the governor to choose from.

The five lawyers are elected by their peers, and the four nonlawyers are appointed by the governor.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has already appointed two of the four members of the nominating commission, replacing members appointed by former Gov. Sam Brownback.

The makeup of the nominating commission could be important in deciding the judicial philosophy of the court in the coming years.

Kelly has already put three of the seven justices on the court and could get more opportunities, with several of the remaining judges in their mid- to late 60s.

The justices don’t have to retire until they’re 75 or at the end of the term when they reach 75.

Flentje was elected to the Supreme Court Nominating Commission by lawyers in the 4th Congressional District.

She is now running statewide for the seat held by Wichita lawyer Mike Stout, whose term expires this year.

Flentje practiced at Foulston Siefkin and then left the firm to join Boeing Co. as its chief counsel.

She became the general counsel and vice president of Spirit AeroSystems when it started and later became the company’s senior vice president of corporate administration and human resources for Spirit.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and international relations from the University of Kansas in 1965 and then earned her law degree from Southern Illinois University.

She has support from former members of the court who tended to lean more liberal while Ayers has support from some conservative members of the bar.

Flentje is backed for the position by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, former Supreme Court Justices Carol Beier and Lee Johnson, as well as former Appeals Court Judge Steve Leben, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett and Johnson County Community College Trustee Greg Musil.

Gary Ayers

Ayers’ practice focuses on health care, litigation, intellectual property, appellate law, white collar crimes as well as mediation dispute resolution.

He also served on the Board of Governors for the Kansas Bar Association and the University of Kansas School of Law, as well as the Supreme Court Task Force on the Supreme Court Rules for District Courts.

He earned his law degree from the University of Kansas in 1979. He received a bachelor’s degree from KU in 1974.

Ayers’ endorsements include Wichita attorney and former U.S. Justice Department official Brad Schlozman, Republican state Rep. Susan Humphries and Jim Rankin, a partner at the Foulston Siefkin law firm and husband of Assistant Insurance Commissioner Barb Rankin.

Other backers include Wichita attorney Chet Compton, who once worked in former Gov. Sam Brownback’s communications office; Matthew Hesse, senior counsel at Via Christi Health; and Foulston partner Scott Nehrbass.

Meanwhile, lawyers in the 4th Congressional District will choose from among Hill, Howell, Kennedy and Lasater.

Hill is a partner with the law firm of McDonald, Tinker, Skaer, Quinn & Herrington, where she focuses on insurance defense, personal injury and employment law.

She graduated from Washburn Law School in 2003 and earned bachelor’s degrees in English and history from the University of Notre Dame.

Kennedy is an attorney at the Martin Pringle law firm in Wichita, where he was the firm’s managing director from 2002 to 2014.

Kennedy’s practice is concentrated on oil and gas law, energy law, environmental law and real estate.

He began his legal career as assistant general counsel for the Kansas Corporation Commission. He received a bachelor’s degree from KU in 1981 and his law degree from Washburn University in 1984.

Howell is a partner at the Prochaska, Howell & Prochaska law firm, where his work focuses on personal injury and medical malpractice law.

He graduated with a law degree from Washburn University and a bachelor’s degree from Wichita State.

Lasater practices at the Wichita firm of Fleeson Gooing and handles civil litigation, commercial transactions, bankruptcy, real estate and business law.

He is a member of the firm’s executive committee.

He received a bachelor’s degree in economics from West Texas State University and a law degree from George Washington University in 1982.