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Kan. court nominee defends comments on Schiavo

Published on -9/3/2013, 4:05 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Gov. Sam Brownback's nominee for the Kansas Court of Appeals faced questions Tuesday from legislators about comments in 2005 in an online magazine he edited that encouraged "forcible resistance" against court orders in order to save the life of a brain-damaged Florida woman.

Caleb Stegall said during a state Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the comments in The New Pantagruel were an endorsement of civil disobedience.

In 2005, Florida and federal courts had ordered the removal of life support for Terri Schiavo, who was at the center of a national debate over the right to die. The New Pantagruel editorial said Schiavo faced the "unjust implementation" of "death by starvation," adding, "There is a higher law."

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, and the most vocal critic of Stegall's appointment, raised the magazine's comments. Hensley said the "insistence on ignoring a legal judgment" raised questions about Stegall's fitness to serve on the state's second-highest court.

But Stegall told the committee that the comments had been mischaracterized and that the magazine was dealing only with the question of whether it would be morally right for a father to give his daughter water in such circumstances, regardless of what a court had ordered.

"The principle of civil disobedience has been one of the great tools for advancing civil rights across the globe," Stegall said.

In response to a question from Sen. Pat Pettey, a Kansas City Democrat, Stegall said he would not go beyond the law as a judge. He also said embracing civil disobedience also includes accepting that laws will be enforced and people will face penalties for their actions.

"These views are completely harmonious with the role of a judge," Stegall said.

The committee hoped to vote on Stegall's nomination Tuesday evening, with a vote by the full Senate expected Wednesday.

Stegall's appointment is being closely watched because it comes under a law that took effect in July, changing how Court of Appeals judges are selected. Under the old system, still in place for Kansas Supreme Court seats, a nominating commission led by lawyers screened applicants and named three finalists, with no role for lawmakers after the governor's appointment. Now, the governor's office screens the candidates and Brownback makes the appointment, subject to Senate confirmation.

Stegall, 41, is Brownback's chief counsel and served two years as Jefferson County's elected prosecutor before joining Brownback's staff when the governor took office in January 2011. Hensley called the appointment "the worst kind of political cronyism," but Brownback said Tuesday that Stegall is "a sharp legal mind."

Stegall also was an attorney in private practice, best known for defending four Americans detained in Haiti after trying to remove 33 children who they believed had been orphaned in its 2010 earthquake. It was later determined that the children had parents, but Stegall's clients returned to the U.S. without facing charges.

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna

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