The Kansas Court of Appeals issued a decision Friday reversing a district court judge’s ruling that a citizen-initiated request for a grand jury to investigate Secretary of State Kris Kobach was invalid due to failure of the petition to make specific allegations of voter-registration misconduct.
The appellate court determined a Douglas County judge incorrectly interpreted Kansas law and that Lawrence petitioner Steven Davis met the state’s legal standard by outlining general allegations against Kobach. The Court of Appeals ordered the district court to proceed with formation of a grand jury.
“Based on the plain and unambiguous language of the statute, we must remand this case to the district court to summon a grand jury,” Court of Appeals Judge Karen Arnold-Burger wrote in the opinion. “In doing so, we make no judgment regarding the validity of the claims made by Davis. Whether Davis’ allegations are meritorious is the matter for the citizen-initiated grand jury to investigate and determine.”
Kansas is among six states that allows citizens of the state to initiate a grand jury investigation. The state has had a system of citizen-initiated grand juries since 1887, but the statute was reformed in 2013 to expand opportunities to convene grand juries.
In August, Davis filed the petition signed by more than 860 people to summon a grand jury to examine whether the online voter registration system operated by the secretary of state’s office failed to record completed voter registrations and whether Kobach was aware of any problems. Davis asserted properly registered voters were turned away in 2016.
“I believe Kris Kobach’s office has been aware of these problems for years and neglected to fix them,” Davis said. “The grand jury will be able to investigate the situation and determine the facts.”
The Douglas County District Court dismissed Davis’ petition two months after it was filed by declaring it didn’t meet subject-matter standards of law adopted by the Kansas Legislature. The district court said the petition lacked “allegations of specific facts that would warrant a finding that the inquiry might lead to information, which, if true, would warrant a true bill of indictment.”
Davis had requested the grand jury examine whether online voter registrations were destroyed or obstructed, whether false or altered registration books existed, if qualified electors have been prevented from voting and whether Kobach or his staff were “grossly neglectful with respect to their election duties.”
The Court of Appeals’ decision said upholding the district court’s interpretation of state law and mandating Davis make more direct allegations of fact to convene a grand jury would “impose additional requirements on citizens beyond what the Legislature intended.” The appellate court said the Legislature wanted citizen-initiated grand juries to have “broad powers to investigate possible criminal activity.”
Notice of the appeal was forwarded to Attorney General Derek Schmidt, but the attorney general’s office didn’t intervene in the case and the state filed no brief in response to the appeal.
Davis, who represented himself on appeal, is a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for a Lawrence seat in the Kansas House.