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  • 10 Mar 2023 10:20 AM | Executive Director (Administrator)

    Appeal No. 123,807:  State of Kansas v. Tyler D. Deck

    Appeal No. 123,807 archived oral argument

    The Supreme Court affirmed Deck's sentence. In a per curiam decision, the Court rejected Deck's claim that the Sedgwick County District Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to sentence him on his attempted unintentional second-degree murder conviction because the crime he pleaded guilty to was logically impossible to commit. The Court reasoned that a motion to correct an illegal sentence, his chosen procedural vehicle, that alleged a defect in the charging document fell into the collateral attack category as inappropriate for courts to reverse a conviction that had become a final judgment, and therefore declined to address the claim's merit. 

    Justice Dan Biles concurred, noting he would address the issue's merits because the statute governing a motion to correct an illegal sentence defines an illegal sentence as one imposed by a court without jurisdiction, and caselaw, State v. Dunn, 304 Kan. 773, 811, 375 P.3d 332 (2016), held that for a charging document to be statutorily sufficient it must allege facts that would constitute a Kansas crime committed by the defendant. He opined the facts stated in Deck's charging document satisfied Dunn, so the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to impose a sentence on his convicted crime.

    Appeal No. 125,505: State v. Turner

    Summary calendar; no archived oral argument

    In 1992, Turner pled no contest to multiple felonies in three separate cases. He is currently serving an aggregated sentence of 80 years to life in prison. In the years following his convictions, Turner unsuccessfully challenged his sentence in various ways. In his most recent challenge, Turner moved the Wyandotte County District Court for an order nunc pro tunc to correct his sentencing journal entries, claiming they are at odds with the actual sentence he is serving. Following the district court's denial of Turner's motion, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court in a unanimous decision written by Justice Melissa Standridge. The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals had previously affirmed the Kansas Department of Corrections' calculation of Turner's 80-years-to-life aggregated sentence and the Kansas Department of Corrections' calculation of Turner's aggregate sentence reflects the sentence imposed by the district court. Noting that nunc pro tunc orders are used to correct arithmetic or clerical errors, the Supreme Court concluded there was no arithmetic or clerical error to correct.
  • 24 Feb 2023 10:51 AM | Executive Director (Administrator)

    Appeal No. 121,914: State of Kansas v. Joseph P. Lowry

    Appeal No. 121,914 archived oral argument

     In a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice Marla Luckert, the Supreme Court affirmed Lowry's convictions for first-degree felony murder for his role in the murders of three people in a Topeka home. The Court rejected Lowry's argument that the trial court should have instructed the jury on the option to convict of voluntary manslaughter instead of first-degree murder because the facts of the case did not support his contention that there was a sudden and unforeseen quarrel that precipitated the killing. The Court rejected Lowry's claim that the trial court should not have allowed the jury to see crime scene and autopsy photographs because the photographs served an evidentiary purpose and did not serve solely to inflame the jury. The Court also rejected Lowry's claim that a jury instruction regarding compulsion as a defense to the nonhomicide crimes was not factually appropriate because the evidence did not show a continuous compulsion that would warrant such instruction and also showed Lowry had opportunities to escape the situation. Finally, the Court found no cumulative error because there were no errors to accumulate.

  • 14 Feb 2023 10:25 AM | Executive Director (Administrator)

    Case No. 125,500: In the Matter of Mitchell J. Spencer

    Case No. 125,500 archived oral argument

    The Supreme Court ordered published censure for Spencer's violations of KRPC 8.4(c) and 8.4(g). Spencer was licensed to practice law in Kansas in September 2017. Two years later, Spencer violated K.S.A. 8-1605, a class C misdemeanor. It is a traffic law concerning the duty of a driver upon damaging unattended vehicle or other property. At the time, Spencer was a Sumner County Attorney's Office employee. The city prosecutor dismissed the citation and referred the case to the Kansas Attorney General's Office. Before the AG's Office filed the case, Spencer paid for the vehicular damages his violation of K.S.A. 8-1605 caused. He also entered into a diversion agreement and completed it. The case was dismissed with prejudice. Counsel for Spencer and the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator jointly recommended more than published censure because of Spencer's status as a prosecutor at the time of misconduct. But the court held that prosecutors are only subject to a higher standard while acting in the scope of their official prosecutorial duties. As Spencer's misconduct did not occur within the scope of his official duties, the rules of professional conduct imposed no heightened duty of ethical conduct on him. Clear and convincing evidence established that Spencer's conduct adversely, but not seriously, reflected on his fitness to practice law.

    Appeal No. 123,637: State of Kansas v. Dustin William Eugene Bilbrey

    Appeal No. 123,637 archived oral argument

    Before sentencing, Bilbrey moved to withdraw his no contest pleas to multiple felonies because his defense counsel was incompetent by refusing to provide Bilbrey with all available video discovery and the State coerced Bilbrey into entering a plea agreement by threatening to prosecute his brother on prior drug charges. The Saline County District Court denied Bilbrey's motion, and a Court of Appeals panel affirmed. On review, the  Supreme Court affirmed the panel's decision finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Bilbrey's motion to withdraw his pleas. In a unanimous decision written by Justice Melissa Standridge, the Court held the district court applied the correct legal standard in reviewing Bilbrey's claim of attorney incompetence and substantial competent evidence supports the district court's factual determination underlying its decision that Bilbrey's plea was not coerced.
  • 27 Jan 2023 9:50 AM | Executive Director (Administrator)

    Appeal No. 123,684: Nancy Granados v. John Wilson and Key Insurance Company

    Appeal No. 123,684 archived oral argument

     Following a fatal car crash, the Wyandotte County District Court entered judgment against Wilson in a wrongful-death suit brought by the deceased's widow, Granados. To collect on that judgment, Granados filed a garnishment action seeking payment from Key Insurance Company under the automobile liability insurance policy it had issued Wilson. The district court entered judgment in favor of Granados for $3,481,901.29, but a panel of the Court of Appeals reversed the district court's decision, finding Key Insurance Company's conduct had not caused the judgment against Wilson. In a unanimous decision written by Justice K.J. Wall, with Justice Dan Biles not participating, the Court clarified that under decades of Supreme Court precedent, insurers have an implied contractual duty to act in good faith and with reasonable care under the circumstances when handling claims against its insureds. The Court held the Court of Appeals panel erred by attempting to define the insurer's legal duty in a more fact-specific, particularized manner—in this instance, by attempting to define the contours of an insurer's purported legal duty to settle under Kansas law. However, after determining Granados had not met her burden of showing that Key Insurance Company's bad faith and negligence had caused the judgment against Wilson, the court affirmed the panel's decision, albeit under a different rationale, and remanded the case to the district court with directions to enter judgment in favor of Key Insurance Company.

  • 23 Jan 2023 11:30 AM | Executive Director (Administrator)

    Appeal No. 120,566: State of Kansas v. Justin Burke Eckert

    Appeal No. 120,566 archived oral argument

    The Supreme Court heard this case on a special evening docket October 3 in Parsons.

    A jury convicted Eckert of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, criminal threat, cultivation of marijuana, eight counts of felony possession of drug paraphernalia under K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 21-5709(b)(1), and 17 counts of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia under K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 21-5709(b)(2). Eckert appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court in part and reversed seven of Eckert's felony possession convictions and 16 of his misdemeanor possession convictions. The Supreme Court granted review on whether the Court of Appeals erred when it held that K.S.A. 2020 Supp. 21-5709(b) is ambiguous because the term "drug paraphernalia" in the statute could refer to either a singular item of paraphernalia or multiple items. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Melissa Standridge, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals judgment, finding that the Legislature intended the term "drug paraphernalia" as used in K.S.A. 2016 21-5709(b) to be tied to a single unit of prosecution. That said, the Court's analytical path differed from the Court of Appeals, as the Supreme Court's opinion stemmed from (1) the ordinary and plain meaning of the term "drug paraphernalia" as used in the statute, (2) the fundamental rule of statutory construction that a court must construe a statute to avoid unreasonable or absurd results, (3) and applying the rule of lenity. Because the court found the term "drug paraphernalia" ambiguous, it did not address a separate sufficiency of the evidence argument pertaining to two of Eckert's felony possession drug paraphernalia convictions.
  • 13 Jan 2023 1:48 PM | Executive Director (Administrator)

    Case No. 125,622: In the Matter of Isaac Henry Marks Sr.

    Case No. 125,622 archived oral argument

    Marks was admitted to practice law in Kansas in October 1987. He is also a licensed attorney in Maryland and the District of Columbia. This case stems from disciplinary actions against Marks for his conduct while working as a trustee in the District of Columbia in 2018. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals suspended his law license for one year on June 24, 2021. He failed to notify the Maryland bar of the District of Columbia discipline. This led to indefinite suspension of his Maryland license on November 15, 2021, for a minimum of one year.

    In the Kansas discipline proceeding, Marks and the Disciplinary Administrator's office entered into a summary submission agreement in which he admitted he violated various D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct and corresponding Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct, including Supreme Court Rule 221(b) (discipline imposed in another jurisdiction).

     Upon adopting the findings and conclusions in the parties' summary submission, the Supreme Court ordered a one-year suspension to run concurrently with his Maryland suspension. The Court also ordered Marks show his Maryland and District of Columbia law licenses are reinstated as a condition of reinstatement of his Kansas license.

  • 06 Jan 2023 10:06 AM | Executive Director (Administrator)

    Appeal No. 122,810: Kelly Roe v. Phillips County Hospital

    Appeal No. 122,810 archived oral argument

    The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision and affirmed the judgment from the Phillips County District Court after the Phillips County Hospital appealed the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of Kelly Roe. After the Hospital refused to provide Roe with copies of certain requested public records in their native electronic format, Roe filed an action under the Kansas Open Records Act, K.S.A. 45-215 et seq., to compel production. The Phillips County District Court granted summary judgment to Roe, holding the Kansas Open Records Act required the Hospital to provide electronic copies of the records. A Court of Appeals panel reversed that decision on appeal, reasoning that the Kansas Open Records Act contained no mandatory language requiring electronic production. On review, the Supreme Court concluded the Kansas Open Records Act requires a public agency to provide a copy of a public record in the form in which it maintains that record. Thus, the Supreme Court held, because Roe requested copies of records created and stored electronically, the Kansas Open Records Act required the Hospital to provide her with electronic copies of those records.
  • 30 Dec 2022 2:10 PM | Executive Director (Administrator)

    Appeal No. 123,096: State of Kansas v. Barbara Marie Frantz

    Appeal No. 123,096 archived oral argument

    The Supreme Court affirmed Frantz's Leavenworth County District Court conviction for first-degree premeditated murder. Her conviction arose out of the 2017 shooting death of her estranged husband outside an apartment complex in the city of Leavenworth. Frantz defended herself at trial by suggesting her son was responsible for the murder.

    Through counsel, Frantz raised several claims of error on appeal, including the district court erred by denying her motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's case; there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction; and the district court violated her confrontation rights under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution by limiting her cross-examination of her son. Representing herself, Frantz also raised numerous other claims of error.

    In an opinion written by Justice K.J. Wall, the Supreme Court held the district court did not err by denying Frantz's motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's evidence. The Court recognized that under Kansas caselaw, Frantz likely waived any claim of error regarding the denial of that motion because she presented evidence in her defense that refuted elements of the State's case. Because neither party had addressed the potential waiver on appeal, the Court reached the merits of Frantz's claim and held the State presented sufficient evidence of Frantz's guilt in its case-in-chief and so she was not entitled to a judgment of acquittal. Likewise, the Court held there was sufficient evidence to support Frantz's conviction when looking at the evidence as a whole. The Court also held that while the district court prevented Frantz from asking her son certain questions while he was testifying, those court-imposed limitations did not violate Frantz's right of confrontation because they complied with Kansas evidentiary rules and did not otherwise prevent Frantz from effectively cross-examining her son. Finally, the Court rejected all claims of error Frantz had raised on her own.

    Justice Stegall concurred with the result but would have abrogated the rule that defendants waive the right to challenge the denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal made at the close of the State's evidence whenever they present defense evidence refuting elements of the State's case. Chief Justice Luckert and Justice Rosen joined the concurrence.

    Appeal No. 124,737: State of Kansas v. Meka Richardson

    Summary calendar; no archived oral argument

    The Supreme Court affirmed the Wyandotte County District Court’s denial of defendant Richardson's postconviction discovery request of the ballistics report from her case. The Court unanimously found that the Court of Appeals did not abuse its discretion because Richardson's discovery request failed to allege any reason why the ballistics report may be relevant in pursuing a challenge to her conviction.  
  • 09 Dec 2022 9:04 AM | Executive Director (Administrator)

    Case No. 125,417: In the Matter of Troy J. Leavitt

    Case No. 125,417 archived oral argument

    In an original proceeding in attorney discipline, Leavitt stipulated to violations of Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3 (2022 Kan. S. Ct. R. 331) (diligence), 1.4 (2022 Kan. S. Ct. R. 332) (communication), 8.2 (2022 Kan. S. Ct. R. 432) (judicial and legal officials), and 8.3 (2022 Kan. S. Ct. R. 433) (reporting professional misconduct). The Supreme Court ordered Leavitt's license to practice law be suspended for one year and his suspension be stayed pending successful participation in and completion of a probation period of one year beginning December 9, 2022.

  • 10 Nov 2022 2:47 PM | Executive Director (Administrator)

    Appeal No. 122,764State of Kansas v. Harold Glen Ford Jr.

    Appeal No. 122,764 archived oral argument

    In 1993, Ford pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and related charges in Johnson County District Court. His convictions were vacated, and his case remanded for trial in 2016 because it was unclear whether he received a requested competency hearing before his guilty plea and a retrospective hearing was not possible. A jury found Ford guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Ford argued that his convictions should be vacated because the delay between the original charge and his 2019 trial violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial. In an opinion written by Justice Eric Rosen, the Court affirmed Ford's convictions. It ruled Ford's constitutional right to a speedy trial detached upon his first conviction and remained so while he stood convicted. Consequently, none of the delay accumulated during that time could be considered in a speedy trial analysis. Because Ford made no argument the delay that accumulated outside of the time, he stood convicted independently violated his speedy trial right, his appeal failed.

    Appeal No. 123,077State of Kansas v. Richard I. Moler II

    Appeal No. 123,077 archived oral argument

    The Supreme Court heard this case on a special evening docket October 3 in Parsons.

    The Supreme Court reversed Moler's two counts of violating the Kansas Offender Registration Act, which makes it a crime for a person subject to its provisions to fail to register "any vehicle owned or operated by the offender, or any vehicle the offender regularly drives, either for personal use or in the course of employment." K.S.A. 2021 Supp. 22-4903(a) (criminalizing registered offender's noncompliance with the act's provisions); K.S.A. 2021 Supp. 22-4907(a)(12) (automobile registration requirement).

    Moler did not register another person's vehicle he drove only once. A Court of Appeals panel divided on how to interpret the statute. The State argued the statute covers vehicles the offender drives one time. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Biles, the court held the registration directive in K.S.A. 2021 Supp. 22-4907(a)(12) is ambiguous. Under the legislative history and the rule of lenity, which favors the accused when a criminal statute is ambiguous, the Court held the statute's mandate does not require an offender to register a vehicle of unknown ownership when the offender has driven it only one time.
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