Over the past few weeks, I've had several organizations submit questions to my campaign. Here are the answers to those questions.

What is the appropriate role of the courts in today’s society? How would you best communicate that role to improve public understanding in your district?
The Judicial Branch (Courts) is one of the three independent branches of government. The role of the courts in our society is to provide a fair public forum in which the applicable laws pertaining to that particular controversy are used to resolve the issue. The ultimate goal of the litigants and the court is to achieve justice for the persons(s) in each case. The judge must be knowledgeable about the law and courtroom procedures. The judge must extend courtesy to all litigants and participants before the court. The judge must apply the appropriate law to the particular facts at issue and make a fair and just decision.

To improve public understanding and acceptance of the court, I would lead by example. As a judge, I will be thoroughly prepared on each case and each issue brought before me. I will use my 31 years of legal experience and life experience to assist the litigants, witnesses, and others who appear in my courtroom, always striving to obtain justice.  

What are the most pressing problems facing this District court? How do you propose handling these issues?
The most pressing issues facing the Kansas District Courts are a lack of personnel, resources, and funding to efficiently move cases through the judicial system. The state-wide judiciary does not have an adequate number of judges, court clerks, and staff to keep cases moving through the court at a reasonable pace. The funding for a sufficient number of judges and staff state-wide is decided by the Kansas Legislature in Topeka. It will have to be addressed in Topeka. Judges can and must participate in that discussion.

If I am elected Judge, I will faithfully and diligently perform my duties and efficiently handle the cases that come before me. I will use my 31 years of courtroom experience, including scores of jury trials, to explore innovative ways to help move litigants' cases forward expeditiously, without jeopardizing their right to a fair trial and a timely decision. I will dedicate my full time and attention to seeking justice. 

Please address the issue of maintaining impartiality, given the need to raise funds and solicit sponsorships for political campaigns.
Judges must maintain their independence, their impartiality, their neutrality and their integrity at all times. When soliciting political and financial support from the voting public, the candidate must be careful to always take reasonable measures to insure that all persons they deal with understand that, once elected, no favoritism will be shown to any contributor. During this campaign, I will not make any pledges, promises, or commitments that are inconsistent with my impartial performance as a judge. My independence, impartiality, neutrality and integrity cannot be bought - and it is not now, nor will it ever be, for sale!

What, if any, steps should our state take concerning the juvenile offender population? What do you see as the root cause of Juvenile offenses? What, if any, alternatives to current practice would you consider?
In exercising my independence and neutrality, I can not comment on any specific case before the court, or which may come before the court. Therefore, I will speak in generalities. After dealing with juvenile offenders for 31 years, it has become apparent to me that juvenile delinquency is individual to each offender. There is no "one root cause" that leads to juvenile delinquency, and there is no "silver bullet" to solve this issue. Each juvenile offender must be looked at individually, and judged independently to make sure the amount of justice imposed by the court is appropriate for the harm done to society.

Recently, Kansas enacted Senate Bill 367 into law which attempts to approach all juvenile offenders in a "cookie cutter" manner. This approach is a disservice to each juvenile whose underlying issues differ from one offender to another. Each participant in the system, judges, prosecutors, attorneys, officers and family members, must be considered uniquely and individually. 

What, if any, steps [will you/should our state] take concerning the overall prison population?
Having had the honor of serving on the Kansas Sentencing Commission from 2007 through 2012, I fully understand how the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines were created and implemented to make prison population predictable and manageable. Prisons should not be used to "warehouse" people that the court is simply frustrated with. Prison should be reserved for violent offenders and offenders who continue to pose a threat to society. The recent implementation of specialty courts (drug, veteran, persistent mental illness) around the country are attempting to bring this philosophy to fruition. While the results so far are mixed, the specialty courts should continue to be explored to determine if they can be successful in diverting persons from our prison system who do not need to be in prison.

If elected, I will use my legal experience and life experience to look at each person being sentenced and, in accordance with the law, determine which defendants pose a danger to society, and which do not.

How can the court system address the inequalities in our justice system?
One of the hallmarks of American jurisprudence is "justice for all." It is the duty of judges to remain vigilant to the possibility of inequalities that may occur in the justice system that could result in justice not being achieved. If an inequality is observed that can be corrected by the court, the court should correct it. Every litigant that appears before a court has the right to expect the judge to be neutral, independent, impartial, whose integrity cannot be questioned. Proper court procedure requires a fair hearing before a qualified and independent judge who has the ability to fairly assess the merits of the case without prejudice or bias. I believe my years of experience in the law and life will allow me to be such a judge. 

How can the court become more transparent so the public has a view of the judges’ work?
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has forced the courts to embrace technology as never before. The use of Zoom and other teleconference platforms, which allow litigants and witnesses to appear in court without physically traveling to court, and streaming it live by YouTube and other video broadcasting platforms has increased judicial transparency. The technology exists to give each judge his own channel which allows hearings to be live-streamed to the public, making court hearings more accessible than ever before. This allows victims, family members and other interested persons to only take the necessary time to view the hearing, and not have to travel to and from the courtroom. Judges should work with the Office of Judicial Administration (OJA) and the Kansas Supreme Court to continue to embrace this technology after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. If elected, I would encourage OJA and the Supreme Court to do so. 

Why are you running for office?

For nearly 31 years, I have had the honor and privilege of serving the public as a lawyer and prosecuting attorney. Now, with your consent, I will continue to serve the public as District Judge of the 23rd Judicial District.

I want to use my 31 years of legal experience - and life experience - to assist litigants, witnesses, and others who appear in my courtroom as we strive to obtain justice. I want to ensure that all who appear before me have a judge with integrity, who is independent, impartial, and neutral at all times, and who is able to fairly assess the merits of the case without prejudice or bias, with the ultimate goal of achieving justice. With my 30+ years of courtroom experience, including scores of jury trials, I am prepared to use my experience to make tough and fair-minded decisions as your District Judge. 

What pertinent experience do you have that would make you successful in the office you are seeking?

After law school, I was in private practice and Assistant Ellis County Attorney for seven years. I was elected Ellis and Trego County Attorney in 1996. I have served as an elected prosecutor (Ellis County 6 terms and Trego County 1 term) for nearly 24 years. Under my leadership, Ellis County sentenced 3,371 felons –  1,081 to prison, in fiscal years 1998-2019.

During my professional career, I have served as the governor’s appointed prosecutor to the Kansas Sentencing Commission (2007-2012); appointed prosecutor to the Kansas Recodification Commission – the redrafting of the Kansas Criminal Code (2009-2010); and am currently serving the Kansas Attorney General as an appointed prosecutor to the Kansas Sexual Violent Predator Commitment Review Committee (2011-Present), and as an appointed prosecutor on the Kansas Supreme Court Pretrial Justice Committee (2018-Present). Locally, I’ve served as the prosecutor on the Northwest Kansas Community Corrections and Juvenile Justice Board since 1996.

 

Please prioritize the top four issues/items you would like to address while in office.

As a District Judge, I will strive to assist litigants, witnesses, and others who appear in my courtroom to obtain justice. I will ensure that all who appear before me have a judge with integrity, who is independent, impartial, and neutral at all times, and who is able to fairly assess the merits of the case without prejudice or bias, with the ultimate goal of achieving justice.

  • I will work diligently and meticulously to assist litigants and court staff to set hearings in a timelier fashion.

  • I will openly communicate with the parties and properly prepare for each hearing and issue that will come before me, to know the relevant issues, statutes and case law necessary to decide the matter.

  • I will timely issue opinions to the litigants to ensure justice is not delayed.

  • I will dedicate my full time and attention to accomplishing the judicial tasks entrusted to me. 


What is your general judicial philosophy? 

The role of the court, and therefore the judge, in our society is to provide a fair and public forum in which the applicable laws pertaining to that particular controversy are used to resolve the issue and obtain justice for the litigants. The ultimate goal of the court, and therefore the judge is to assist the litigants in each hearing to achieve justice. The judge must be knowledgeable about the law and courtroom procedures and must extend courtesy to all litigants and participants before the court. Ultimately, the judge must apply the appropriate law to the particular facts at issue and make a fair and just decision. As a judge, I will be thoroughly prepared on each case and each issue brought before me. I will use my 31 years of legal experience – and life experience – to assist the litigants, witnesses, and others who appear in my courtroom to obtain justice.

Every litigant that appears before a court has a right to expect their judge to be neutral, independent, impartial, whose integrity cannot be questioned. Proper court procedure requires a fair, open and timely hearing before a qualified and independent judge who has the ability to fairly assess the merits of the case without prejudice or bias. I believe my years of experience in the law – and in life – will allow me to be such a judge. If elected judge, I will faithfully and diligently perform my duties to efficiently handle the cases and controversies that come before me. I will explore innovative ways to help move litigants’ cases forward expeditiously, without jeopardizing their right to a fair trial and a timely decision. 

 

What criteria would you use for deciding whether to impose or affirm sentences outside of standard ranges?

A candidate for judicial office cannot make any statements that could affect the outcome, or impair the fairness, of a matter pending or impending before a court. Further, judicial candidates cannot make pledges, promises or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of the judicial office. (Kansas Supreme Court Rule on Judicial Conduct #4.1(a)(5) and (6)).

Accordingly, I cannot prejudge any issue, or promise how I would rule on an issue that may come before me, and sentencing will come before me, if elected.

 

However, I can speak generally about departure sentences. Kansas sentencing laws are codified in chapter 21 sections 6600 – 6800 (Kansas Statutes Annotated 2019 Supplement (pages 589-660). This question asks about departure sentences, a sentence that is either more or less severe than the standard sentence pursuant to the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines. Specifically, departure sentences are codified at K.S.A. 2019 Supplement 21-6815 through 21-6818. Kansas Sentencing Guidelines require the judge to impose the presumed sentence, unless the judge finds substantial and compelling reasons to impose a departure sentence.

Unless an upward departure (more severe) sentence is agreed to by the parties in their plea agreement, the matter must be submitted to the trier of fact – jury or judge (if a jury trial is waived). A downward departure sentence (less severe) is decided by the sentencing judge. The statutes for upward departure (aggravating factors) or downward departure (mitigating factors) include a long list of factors too numerous to list here. Separate factors exist if it is a drug conviction versus a nondrug conviction. The trier of fact (jury or judge) must find substantial and compelling reasons to impose a departure sentence. Recognizing substantial and compelling reasons to depart takes a lot of life and legal experience, which I possess. 

Describe the ideal judge. 

 The role of the courts in our society is to provide a fair public forum in which the applicable laws pertaining to that particular controversy are used to resolve the issue. The ultimate goal of the litigants and the court is to achieve justice in each case. The judge must be knowledgeable about the law and courtroom procedures. The judge must extend courtesy to all litigants and participants before the court. The judge must apply the appropriate law to the particular facts at issue and make a fair and just decision.

 

An ideal judge would lead by example. An ideal judge should be thoroughly prepared on each case and each issue brought before the court. I believe I have the necessary education, experience, character, and dedication to be a good judge. I will use my 31 years of legal experience and life experience to assist the litigants, witnesses, and others who appear in my courtroom, always striving to obtain justice.

Describe the most challenging ethical dilemma you have encountered. How did you handle it? 

I was the prosecutor at a detention hearing for a young man and came to realize the defense attorney was not advocating for the best interest of the young man. I believed the attorney had a conflict of interest due to his personal relationship with a person other than the young man.  I asked for a recess, conferred with the Kansas Disciplinary Administrator, then confronted the attorney. The information given to me by the attorney confirmed a conflict of interest. We continued the hearing; a new attorney was appointed for the young man, and the attorney reported himself to the disciplinary office.

 

What do you perceive as the greatest obstacles to justice, if any?

 On the substantive side, the greatest obstacle to justice is the lack of willingness by litigants and witnesses to come forward and speak the truth about the issues being litigated. On the procedural side, the greatest obstacle is the lack of personnel, resources, and funding to efficiently move cases through the judicial system. The state-wide judiciary does not have an adequate number of judges, court clerks, and staff to keep cases moving through the court at a reasonable pace.

 

If I am elected Judge, I will faithfully and diligently perform my duties. I will explore innovative ways to help move litigants' cases forward expeditiously, without jeopardizing their right to a fair trial and a timely decision. I will dedicate my full time and attention to seeking justice.

 

What do you believe are the causes of the high rates of minority incarceration? 

 I cannot speak to national numbers, but I am not aware that our local incarceration rates are disproportionate. As a prosecutor, I do not and have never considered race in charging decisions or case resolution. As a judge, I would treat everyone fairly, regardless of their race.

 

What do you think about the growing prison population?  What response should society have to prison overcrowding? 

Again, I cannot speak to national numbers, but I am familiar with Kansas and Ellis County numbers. The state of Kansas has the capacity to house approximately 10,000 prisoners. For the last several years, Kansas has been at and slightly above capacity. Ellis County can house approximately 75 inmates. Since the jail re-opened following the remodel (January 2016), Ellis County has averaged around 65 inmates. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kansas prison population has decreased to under 9,200, and Ellis county has decreased to around 45 inmates.

 

It is important to make sure that the people we have in prison/jail should be there, and that we do not unnecessarily incarcerate anyone. As a prosecutor, I have seen the problem with resorting to housing people in county jail who are mentally ill or addicted to various substances. From my experience as an appointed prosecutor to the Kansas Sentencing Commission (2007-2012), and the Kansas Supreme Court Pre-Trial Justice Committee (2018-Present), I am knowledgeable about the challenges regarding inmate population. We need to work toward community programs that address these issues, instead of relying on the jail to fill the void. As a prosecutor, I have worked closely with community corrections, court services, and High Plains Mental Health, to ensure that the people in jail need to be in jail. As a judge, I will work hard to help move cases quickly through the system that do not require a lot of judicial intervention, so that I can spend the necessary time on cases that are more time intensive. This requires an educated, reasoned, and seasoned approach to who should be in jail and who should not. I believe my unique skillset, education, and experience will allow me to make such decisions.

  

As a prospective judge, what do you consider your greatest strengths? Weaknesses? 

For nearly 31 years, I have had the honor and privilege of serving the public as a lawyer and prosecuting attorney. I want to use my 31 years of legal experience – and life experience – to assist litigants, witnesses, and others who appear in my courtroom to obtain justice. I want to ensure that all who appear before me have a judge with the highest integrity, who is independent, impartial, neutral at all times, and who is able to fairly assess the merits of the case without prejudice or bias, with the ultimate goal of achieving justice. With my nearly 31 years of courtroom experience and dedication to the practice of law, I am prepared to make the tough and fair-minded decisions required of a district judge.

 

Although I am exceedingly knowledgeable regarding criminal law and procedure, as criminal law has been my primary focus for the past 24 years, I did practice civil law for 7 years. Therefore, I have the benefit of a well-rounded background. Also, as a prosecutor I’ve handled numerous child in need of care and care and treatment cases, which are civil cases. In addition, I’ve handled several civil cases as appointed county counselor through the years, including tax, zoning, and appeals that are civil in nature. Because it is not new to me, I am confident in my ability to reacquaint myself with the nuances of civil procedure quickly.

 

Have you ever been disciplined by the bar association or the state commission on judicial conduct? 

No, I have never been disciplined by the Kansas Office of the Disciplinary Administrator.  

 

Have you ever been arrested? When and on what charges? What was the outcome? 

No, I have never been arrested.

 

Have you ever been a principal, named litigant in a civil matter? How did it affect you? 

Yes, I have been sued on a few occasions in my capacity as the Ellis County Attorney, in state court and in federal court, during my nearly 24 years of service as the Ellis County Attorney. All of the actions filed against me were dismissed by the courts prior to trial (on summary judgment). Being sued helped give me perspective on how important each and every lawsuit (criminal or civil) is to the people involved. It further helped to remind me of the importance of a fair, just, and speedy resolution to each and every case.

 

Have you ever been the victim of a crime? How did it impact you (if at all) as an attorney or judge? 

Yes, through the years I have had numerous minor incidents of property damage to my vehicles and my house, and more serious threats against myself and my family. This goes with the territory of nearly 31 years of prosecution. However, it pales in comparison to what victims of person crimes and law enforcement officers suffer and endure. This has helped me to be empathetic to those who have suffered a civil or criminal wrong against them, and who are seeking justice through the court system.

Paid for by Tom Drees for Judge •  Mike Drees, Treasurer
Paid for by Tom Drees for Judge •  Mike Drees, Treasurer