Gov. Laura Kelly doubles down on Carl Folsom for Kansas Court of Appeals

By: - August 24, 2020 5:24 pm
Gov. Laura Kelly and legislators on the State Finance Council agreed to reallocate $38 million in federal CARES Act money to urgent needs amid the COVID-19 surge and to earmark money unspent on Dec. 31 to the state's shrinking unemployment insurance fund. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Gov. Laura Kelly and legislators on the State Finance Council agreed to reallocate $38 million in federal CARES Act money to urgent needs amid the COVID-19 surge and to earmark money unspent on Dec. 31 to the state’s shrinking unemployment insurance fund. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly announced Monday she again has appointed federal public defender Carl Folsom to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Folsom, who works in Topeka, was appointed by the governor in May and rejected by Senate Republicans during a special session in June. Kelly has now selected Folsom from among three candidates to replace retired Judge Steve Leben.

Kelly condemned the Senate’s decision to reject Folsom initially and said she expects a different result this time around.

Senators tasked with vetting Carl Folsom for an appeals court vacancy complained that his experience as a public defender was too narrowly focused. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Senators tasked with vetting Carl Folsom for an appeals court vacancy complained that his experience as a public defender was too narrowly focused. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

“We have heard from a number of senators that they regret the vote that they took or that they passed on,” Kelly said. “I fully expect that the Senate will come back and do the right thing this time and confirm Carl Folsom.”

During the special session, Folsom was criticized by opposing senators for the narrow focus of his career. He has spent the majority of his career in criminal defense at the state or federal level.

Supporters of Folsom blasted senators for holding public defenders to a different standard than prosecutors or attorneys with civil law experience. A Kansas Reflector review of judicial backgrounds found little defense experience among higher court judges in Kansas.

The vote for Folsom was 18 to 17, just short of the 21 votes required to approve a nomination.

“Folsom clearly indicated during his nomination hearing he would be another activist judge,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita. “We want judges to rule in accordance with our constitution, while Governor Kelly wants unelected judges to continue to legislate from the bench.”

Folsom, who grew up in Tonganoxie, earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kansas. Following law school, Folsom worked in the Kansas Appellate Defender’s Office.

He then spent two years in private practice before becoming an assistant federal public defender in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and then Topeka.

“Carl is not only an extremely bright lawyer, but he also has a passion for the practice of law and a real understanding of how it affects Kansans’ daily lives,” Kelly said. “Carl is not afraid to stand up for the people of our state and protect their fundamental rights, no matter the cost.”

Folsom was chosen from a shortlist of recommendations provided to Gov. Kelly by the Court of Appeals Nominating Commission in July. Lesley Isherwood, a Sedgewick County attorney and Russell Keller, a judicial clerk with the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals., were also considered for the vacancy.

The appointment is now subject to confirmation by the Senate during the next legislative session.

“I am honored and humbled that Governor Kelly has confidence in my ability to serve the people of Kansas as a judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals,” Folsom said. “I am looking forward to continuing Judge Leben’s commitment to procedural fairness, to ensure a transparent process where all litigants are given a voice and are treated fairly, evenly, and with dignity and respect.” 

Folsom was previously nominated to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Judge G. Joseph Pierron. The governor may not appoint a rejected appointee to the same vacancy again, however, no such regulations exist for a different vacancy. 

Before 2013, Court of Appeals judges were not subject to Senate confirmation.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.

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