Backlash in Kansas?

Judging by these two short pieces–one yesterday, one today–the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision last Friday to extend to juvenile defendants the right to a jury trial has prompted some concerns among legal professionals who fear they’ll need to absorb an increased caseload without being given the necessary resources. Wichita ABC affiliate KAKE ran a segment last night on the premise that the decision will “take a toll” on a system that’s already stretched thin. Phil Journey, an attorney in Wichita and a Republican State Senator, was interviewed at length. “This will put more strain on the court system because even though the number of cases won’t change, the amount of court time required for each case will certainly increase,” Journey said. And according to this editorial in today’s Wichita Eagle, “Legislators and locals had better be thinking how to pay for this sweeping new mandate.”

The primary focus of concern, according to both pieces, is the new juvenile justice complex in urban Sedgwick County, which handles many of the state’s young offenders but was not designed to handle jury trials. Judge James Burgess, chief juvenile judge of the Sedgwick County District Court, told the Eagle‘s editorial board that “the whole state’s going to pay” in additional jury fees and lawyers’ fees. From the editorial:

The ruling means that Sedgwick County’s new juvenile justice complex is insufficient, because it has no room for jury deliberation. Burgess already was “back to having too many judges and not enough courtrooms,” because juvenile court is scheduled to gain a fifth judge in January to handle its existing cases. Burgess also newly needs access to the jury pool.

Burgess, the editorial adds, may be sensitive not only to the potential cost burden but also to the Court’s description of the Kansas juvenile justice system as one that has drifted so far from a mission based on rehab and toward one aimed at punishment that denying juveniles the right to a jury trial in what is now a de facto adult system would be unconstitutional.

I don’t have any particular insight into whether the concerns raised in these articles are valid–whether, that is, the Kansas juv court system will need an infusion of resources to handle an anticipated uptick. If more money is needed to fulfill the court’s mandate, then more money should be allocated. I would add, though, that the long-term goal should not be to properly equip the Kansas juvenile justice system with the resources and procedures necessary to mirror the Kansas criminal justice system. If the state is directing money toward juvenile justice, I’d prefer to see a good portion of it going toward reform efforts so that ten, twenty years from now, the state system may have two fully functioning, fully staffed, fully resourced systems with distinctly different procedures, carrying out distinctly different missions.


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