Kansas Supreme Court works to clarify law in KHP suit

A U.S. judge asks for help sorting through statute called ‘not a model of clarity.’

By

State News

April 7, 2022 - 2:23 PM

The Kansas Supreme Court conducted oral argument Wednesday night in a case challenging ouster of the Kansas Highway Patrol colonel in 2019. The former KHP leader filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, but a federal judge asked the state Supreme Court for help interpreting state employment law. (Kansas Reflector screen capture of Kansas Supreme photograph)

TOPEKA — Former Kansas Highway Patrol Col. Mark Bruce’s attorney went before the Kansas Supreme Court to argue state law required his client’s return to the rank of major instead of being ousted three years ago amid a domestic-violence scandal involving the agency’s lieutenant colonel.

A lawyer representing Gov. Laura Kelly; Will Lawrence, the governor’s chief of staff; and KHP Col. Herman Jones argued the claims by Bruce in a lawsuit lacked merit because he voluntarily signed resignation and retirement papers after being informed his services were no longer needed in the Kelly administration. In addition, the governor’s attorney said Bruce was misinterpreting state employment law.

A U.S. District Court judge handling the Bruce lawsuit against Kelly, Lawrence and Jones said he was so perplexed by the applicable Kansas law — “not a model of clarity” — that he took the unusual step of requesting the state Supreme Court resolve disputes about interpretation of the state statute. The analysis could include work to understand intent of the Legislature when it tinkered with the Kansas Civil Service Act in 2018.

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