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Judges retire; search for replacements begins

Staff writer

Thirty years ago, Morris County lawyer Michael Powers struggled with deciding whether to pursue a judgeship in Marion County.

“I had to move from Morris County with my wife,” he said.

Now, as he approaches his Aug. 20 retirement as chief judge of the 8th Judicial District, he doesn’t regret the decision. He grew to love the people of the county.

“I look back and have to say I did the right thing,” Powers said. “I moved here when our youngest child was in second grade. Last week, she had her second baby. A lot has changed.”

Powers, 66, has been active in community organizations, including Marion Advancement Campaign, Marion Economic Development Inc., Kiwanis, and Chingawassa Days. He provides play-by-play commentary for local access cable broadcasts of high school football games.

His most memorable case was that of a high school senior who fatally stabbed another youth.

The senior was convicted, but the state Supreme Court overturned and remanded it back for a new trial partly because graphic autopsy photos had been shown to the jury.

“We retried it here, and this time the jury convicted on a lesser charge,” Powers said. “He ended up getting in trouble again in Council Grove and went to prison for decades.”

Other cases that stand out are divorces involving two good parents, one of whom was moving far away, forcing the judge to decide which parent gets residential custody of their children.

“You make the best decision you can, but when you see both parents do what they have to do to make it work, that makes you feel good about people,” Powers said.

Another scenario that makes him feel good is when young people who are clearly headed in the wrong direction later turn themselves around.

“You run into them, or they seek me out and let me know how they’re doing,” he said with a smile.

Last year, Powers received the Kansas District Judges Association Award for Judicial Excellence.

The award recognized his knowledge and application of law, treatment of others, and respect among peers, attorneys, litigants, and the public.

Powers is a member of the Kansas Supreme Court’s eCourt Steering Committee, which oversees implementation of a statewide case management system that will complete a conversion from local, paper-driven filing.

He also chairs the eCourt Steering Committee’s workshare subcommittee, which looks at how judicial branch employees can work more efficiently. Eventually all district courts in Kansas will standardize processes to enable courts across Kansas to share work.

Judge Steven Hornbaker, who served in Geary County but sometimes heard cases in Marion County, retired June 1 after 21 years on the bench.

“Every case, whether it involves $10 or $10 billion, is important,” he said. “All judges know it isn’t the amount of money involved; it is the welfare of our citizens that is important. People have to know the judiciary treats them all the same.”

The search to replace both judges began last week.

Nomination forms are available from the clerk of the district court, the clerk of the appellate courts, or online at www.kscourts.org. The deadline to submit a nomination is noon Tuesday, July 13.

A nominating commission will interview nominees Aug. 18 and make recommendations to the governor.

The governor will have 60 days to appoint judges to fill their positions.

After one year, the appointed judges must stand for election in the next general election in order to remain in the position. If the vote is to retain them, they serve a four-year term.

Last modified June 17, 2021

 

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