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Kansas Judicial Branch

Review of the Operations
of the Kansas Judicial Branch

Chief Justice Lawton Nuss
Chief Justice Lawton Nuss

This web page has been established to help keep Kansans informed of the latest developments in a comprehensive review of their courts.

For the first time in state history, in August 2010 the Kansas Supreme Court ordered a weighted caseload study to be performed in all Kansas district courts on all types of cases. In December 2010, the Court appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission to review operations of the Kansas Judicial Branch, consider the results of the weighted caseload study and possibly make recommendations for adjustments in the courts. It has been said this process has the potential for making the most dramatic changes since court unification in 1977. The Supreme Court took these steps under its power granted by the people of Kansas in our state Constitution to exercise general administrative authority over all courts in the state.

What is a weighted caseload study? It is an effort to accurately measure the amount of time it actually takes judges and staff to process court cases from initial filing to their final resolution. The study is important because the sheer numbers of cases do not tell the full story of judicial and staff workloads. For example, a proper study must examine case complexity and the time necessary for certain judges and staff to travel from court to court in their multi-county districts. The weighted caseload study attempts to take these and other factors into account and compare "apples to apples" across the state. Such a weighted study has been recommended in Kansas since at least 1944 and by almost all commissions formed since that time to review Kansas courts.

For such an important project, the Supreme Court wanted the most accurate measurements possible. As a result, it hired the experts from the National Center for State Courts to perform the study, becoming the 34th state to do so. Because Kansas has some qualities unique to us, the Court also appointed two 14-member committees of Judicial Branch personnel to assist the National Center in this effort. One committee of district judges and district magistrate judges ("judicial needs assessment committee") advised with the measurement of judges' work. The other committee of court administrators, court clerks, and other nonjudicial personnel ("staffing needs assessment committee") did the same with staff work. The Supreme Court took care to make committee appointments representative of the wide diversity of Kansas communities and judicial districts.

In addition to the study being important, its scope was extensive. There are approximately 266 judge positions and 1,590 non-judicial positions authorized for the Kansas state courts. During the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, those courts handled approximately 500,000 cases.

The needs assessment committees met frequently to analyze the time studies collected from all Kansas judges and over 1500 judicial staff working in the district courts. Their report of the weighted caseload study, which began in early January 2011, was completed in early November 2011. While that study was underway, a commission of talented people from across the state was reviewing the operations of the Kansas courts. It was such a Blue Ribbon Commission's review in the 1970's that led to the unification of state courts. The Court took care to make appointments representative of a variety of backgrounds and leadership positions to the Blue Ribbon Commission.

The first order of business of the commission after its March 9, 2011, meeting was to hold 19 "listening post" community meetings in 18 cities around the state. These meetings in 2011 started in Norton on April 18 and finished in Topeka on June 6. A summary consolidated list of the minutes of these community meetings is found on the Blue Ribbon Commission link below.

The commission also assigned its members to three work groups to study the structure of the courts, the financing of the courts, and the procedures and technology of the courts. Those work groups began meeting in May of 2011 and continued to meet throughout that summer. The full commission met for a second and third time on July 13 and September 28 in 2011.

The commission's work was completed in early January 2012, when it submitted recommendations in its report to the Court. Based upon these recommendations, which relied in part upon the results of the weighted caseload study, the Supreme Court continues to consider and implement possible improvements in various aspects of the Kansas court system and ways to make the best use of taxpayer money. Most importantly, the Court will continue to work hard to ensure Kansans' access to justice.

Below are links to the Blue Ribbon Commission report and the weighted caseload study:

    Blue Ribbon Commission Report
    Weighted Caseload Study Report

Updates on several Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations are included in my annual State of the Judiciary reports and in seminannual reports to commission members:

    June 2017 Update on BRC Recommendations
    2017 State of the Judiciary
    January 2016 Update on BRC Recommendations
    2016 State of the Judiciary
    June 2015 Update on BRC Recommendations
    2015 State of the Judiciary
    January 2014 Update on BRC Recommendations
    2014 State of the Judiciary
    June 2013 Update on BRC Recommendations
    2013 State of the Judiciary

As the Supreme Court announced in August 2010, we had no preconceived ideas on what, if any, changes should be made to Kansas courts. But the Court is committed to the principle that whatever changes are made must be the right changes.

Members of the committees and the Blue Ribbon Commission may be found here:

Blue Ribbon Commission
Judicial Needs Assessment Committee
Staffing Needs Assessment Committee