The Marlboro Man of Kansas

A few weeks ago, I attended a CLE seminar as a means of keeping in the good graces of the Kansas Bar. I talked about all the geriatric lawyers there in a previous post. While there, I attended a brown-bag luncheon.

I know very little about Kansas Law, having practiced Military/Federal-centric law for my entire legal career. I know little about the status of Kansas courts or the lawyers who practice within them. Nonetheless, I found the luncheon to be informative and instructive.

The keynote speaker was the Chief Justice of the State of Kansas, Lawton Nuss. Damn, I love that name. Lawton Nuss sounds like someone who spits tobacco at least 25 feet and has a shadowbox filled with different varieties of barbed wire on his wall. It is the name of a real man’s man–a guy who embodies everything the Marlboro Man is supposed to be–minus the carcinogenic stuff. Here’s a picture of this former Marine who stands about 6’3”. Am I wrong?

He spoke to us in the most unpretentious manner about the state of Kansas courts and the initiatives undertaken to streamline operations and improve accessibility. I was impressed (something I don’t say often).

My opinion of all state court systems is that they are ripe for stagnation. More than any other branch, they get away with the statement “that’s the way we’ve always done it” more than any other. They do so by being relatively inaccessible, closed to new thoughts and procedures, mysterious, and exclusive. They are led by bureaucrats, not leaders.


CJ Nuss bucks that trend. Inheriting a court at a moment of financial disaster in Kansas, he was forced to close the courts last year for several days due to lack of funding. It is an act that haunts him personally. He accepts his authority as a leader, not a bureaucrat. Two things about the closure bother him the most–the lack of courts for those who need them and the harm done to the employees of the judicial branch who lost salary due to the shut doors. He’s resolved to never do that again.

How? He wants to change the way courts do business and streamline all operations while maximizing accessibility to the average citizen. He’s willing to make the judiciary uncomfortable in the process. He sends his associate justices out to interview members of the bar and the bench on ways to improve the system. He forces the court out of it’s comfortable home in Topeka to hear cases in remote parts of a remote state, just to promote greater transparency for the system. He’s making a difference by doing different things. He has knocked the Kansas court system off balance as a means of forcing them to look where they are standing.

So, why am I lauding this? After all, I don’t practice before any of his courts. A few months ago, Norm Pattis bemoaned the composition of many Supreme Courts. His gist? The courts consisted of academics and career judges–not practitioners. Well, good news, Norm. Governor Bill Graves appointed CJ Nuss to the supreme court from a small firm in Salina, Kansas–not a law school, and not another appellate court.

His tenure is still a work in progress, but there is no mistaking that his process is one that the likes of Kansas has never seen. He wants to make a difference, and he wants change. Stagnation makes him sick. He doesn’t mind discomfort.

My hope is that his tenure gains traction and attention. Kansas doesn’t exactly set precedent for other states, but CJ Nuss should.

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9 thoughts on “The Marlboro Man of Kansas

    • What an illuminating comment, and oddly to a post that happens to mention you and link to your post. It’s like kismet, since you’ve offered nothing here otherwise. Of course, as every good PR person informs their client, one should always thank anyone who links to them to make them like you and feed into your marketing machine.

      But far more importantly, I was prepared to hate CJ Nuss despite Eric’s post, until you added this comment endorsing him as a breath of fresh air. Now I love him and it’s changed my life. Thank you. No really, I can’t tell you how this has changed my life, just knowing that you care.

    • The minute I posted the picture, I had a sneaking suspicion you might think so.

      Don’t expect shg to comment now. He’s still ruffled about the beer thing.

      • You are not forgiven on the beer issue, but I nonetheless commented to Norm only to point out the disingenuousness of the Happysphere pretense of vapid, empty warm and fuzzy thank you’s to keep the idiots thinking that you truly care about them.

        There is no requirement that I suffer fools, liars or backslappers gladly.

  1. SHG:

    Except, of course, when the back being slapped is yours. I have never seen more ass-kissing on a site than here. The host of the site should be ashamed of himself: Damn, dude, where is your self-respect?

    • I think you’ve misunderstood the comment a bit.

      I’m also curious why you choose to abbreviate your last name, Mr. Turkadian.

      I’d be happy to discuss your anonymous criticism–(785) 262-9371.

      Also, please include your blog URL, since I’m sure you’ve also availed yourself on the Internet as subject to peer review and criticism.

    • Oh, and nice false email. To think, you’re questioning my self-respect? It’s OK. We’ll see what your IP address shows me… All I ask is that you not be afraid of owning your own words. This isn’t one of those blogs where you can hide behind some false front.

    • On the contrary, Jonathan. When I find something admirable about a guy, I’m no more hesitant to make that known as when I have a problem. It’s a two way street. Funny how when you say something negative, people whine, and say something positive, people whine. So you just say whatever you have to say and let the whiners whine.

      Whine away, Jonathan. It feels better when you let it out.

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