Brownback picks his top deputy Caleb Stegall to be an appeals court judge

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  • Brownback wants to put one of his top employees on the appeals court.

Caleb Stegall has been a dependable legal and political authority for some of Kansas’ most prominent and controversial Republicans.

Most recently, he has served as chief counsel to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Stegall’s work must have left an impression on his boss because Brownback is now propelling one of his office’s best lieutenants to a prominent seat in the state’s judiciary.

Now Stegall is on his way toward becoming a judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals. Brownback nominated Stegall during a Tuesday-morning press conference at the Statehouse in Topeka.

Stegall has tried to get a spot on the appellate court before but was turned away by a nominating commission that would vet applicants for a judgeship and then forward three choices on to the governor.

But Kansas has changed the process for nominating appellate court judges (who are one judicial level below the Kansas Supreme Court), so now the governor gets to pick a nominee and then have it confirmed by the Kansas Senate.

That’s expected to happen during a special session in September, given the conservative makeup of the Kansas Senate.

Brownback’s nomination was eagerly awaited, given that the new process for selecting appellate court judges was considered by critics as a means for injecting politics into a branch of government that’s supposed to be apolitical.

Stegall was formerly the district attorney for Jefferson County, but is perhaps best remembered around Kansas City for his legal work on behalf of former Kansas Attorney General and Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline’s investigation of Planned Parenthood in Overland Park.

Kline’s political hallmark in Kansas was his persistent investigation into abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood and the late Wichita abortion provider George Tiller. Kline maintained that he wanted to look into whether those clinics were following state laws; critics insisted that he abused his authority in a political crusade to hassle physicians providing a legal service.

But some of Kline’s investigative tactics purportedly approached the fringes of the appropriate conduct for an attorney, enough so that the Kansas Supreme Court is considering disciplining him, so far as his law license in Kansas is concerned. The court has not yet ruled on that matter, and there’s no word on when it will. Stegall represented Kline at times during those disciplinary proceedings.

Stegall also represented Eric Rucker, another of Kline’s top legal minds, in disciplinary hearings related to the abortion investigation. Rucker received an informal admonition by a disciplinary panel in 2010 for providing misleading information to the Kansas Supreme Court during the investigation. He escaped harsher sanctions that had been considered.

But while Stegall is well-regarded by Republicans, he has also garnered support from prominent state Democrats. The Associated Press reports that Lawrence attorney Dan Watkins and former Kansas Attorney General Steve Six, both Democrats, pledged their support for Stegall’s nomination to the appellate court.

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