Kansas Supreme Court affirms district court’s opinion in Cheeks case

The Kansas Supreme Court today affirmed the Wyandotte County District Court’s denial of Jerome Cheeks’ motion seeking postconviction DNA testing.

The district court had denied the motion on remand from the Supreme Court.

Cheeks was found guilty by a jury in 1993 of the second-degree murder of his wife. His wife had been assaulted and beaten to death. Cheeks was sentenced to 15 years to life. By the time the district court was hearing the remanded case from the Supreme Court the first time, he had been released from prison.

Cheeks had sought postconviction DNA testing in a motion filed in 2009, according to court documents. The state statute on DNA testing authorizes person who were convicted of first-degree murder or rape to petition for DNA testing, if they meet other eligibility factors in the law.

The district court rejected Cheeks’ motion because he was not convicted of first-degree murder or rape; he was convicted of second-degree murder.

Cheeks’ attorney argued the law of the case doctrine and the mandate rule required the district court to grant his motion based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in his prior appeal. In that prior appeal, the 14th Amendment equal protection clause was cited.

The Supreme Court held the law of the case doctrine did not compel the district court to grant the motion, as the Supreme Court had issued an intervening contrary decision regarding the applicable law, and the Supreme Court’s decision from Cheeks’ prior appeal is now clearly erroneous, according to today’s decision.

The earlier Supreme Court decision on the Cheeks case stated that he was similarly situated to defendants convicted of first-degree murder. In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court decided State vs. LaPointe, which overruled the first Cheeks decision.

Today the Supreme Court stated, in a decision written by Justice Keynen Wall Jr., “there can be no dispute that LaPointe is binding precedent, and it overrules Cheeks I. Thus, it would be futile to reverse and remand this matter to the district court for failing to adhere to prior appellate mandates when LaPointe ineveitably controls the ultimate disposition of Cheeks’ motion on remand under K.S.A. 21-2512. We therefore affirm the district court’s denial of Cheeks’ motion for postconviction DNA testing.”

Justice Marla Luckert, joined by Justice Evelyn Wilson, dissented from the majority ruling today. They stated the narrow holding from Cheeks’ prior appeal remains good law and that Cheeks should remain eligible for DNA testing if he satisfies the remaining statutory requirements.

Today’s decision is online at

Governor appoints new Kansas Supreme Court justice

Judge Melissa Taylor Standridge

Gov. Laura Kelly today appointed Melissa Taylor Standridge to the Kansas Supreme Court.

Standridge, Leawood, has served on the Kansas Court of Appeals since 2008. Before serving as a judge, she was an associate attorney with Shook, Hardy and Bacon in the Kansas City area and a chambers counsel in the U.S. District Court.

She fills the position that became open with the recent retirement of Justice Carol Beier, a Kansas City, Kansas, native who graduated from Bishop Ward High School in 1976.

Standridge received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Kansas in 1984, going on to pursue her law degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. During her tenure at UMKC, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Law Review and the student leader of the Moot Court program, graduating in 1993.

When she was at Shook, Hardy and Bacon she was a founding member of the firm’s award-winning diversity and inclusion initiative.

A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Standridge from 1999 to 2008 served as chambers counsel to U.S. District Magistrate Judge David Waxse in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas.

“As governor, the process of appointing justices to the Kansas Supreme Court is one I take very seriously,” Gov. Kelly said in a news release. “Not only must justices have knowledge of the law, but also a complex and nuanced understanding of the world and the people the law is intended to govern.”

“There’s no question that Melissa has gathered a wealth of legal expertise that makes her more than prepared to join the Supreme Court. But there’s more to her unique career trajectory and life experience that makes her a perfect fit for our state’s highest court.

“As a foster and adoptive parent, she has firsthand experience navigating the system both as a judge, and as a foster parent to numerous youngsters, doing her best to provide security, stability and love to kids who sorely needed it.
“The totality of her life and career experience makes her preeminently qualified to sit on the Kansas Supreme Court.”

Judge Standridge is married to Judge Richard Standridge, and they have six children.

The two other candidates for the Kansas Supreme Court were Judge Kim Cudney, Greenleaf, Kansas, and Kristen Wheeler, Wichita.

Standridge has received numerous awards for her performance, including the Outstanding Service Award from the Kansas Bar Association, the Sandra Day O’Connor Award for Professional Service from the American Inns of Court, and in 2006 she was selected as Kansas City Leader of the Year by “The Daily Record.”

Additionally, in 2007, her work enriching the lives of children earned her the Angel in Adoption award from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

“To serve on our state’s highest court is the honor of a lifetime – but I don’t view joining the Supreme Court as just a capstone to my career,” Standridge said in the news release. “The justices of our Supreme Court have difficult jobs. So I am keenly aware that my appointment is more than just moving my office from the second floor of the judicial center to the third floor.

“But I believe that my years as a judge on the Court of Appeals, my extensive experience working with judges and lawyers from across our state, and my broad life experiences outside the law have prepared me for this challenge.”

For the first time, finalists for Kansas Supreme Court vacancy are all women

Gov. Laura Kelly, who has already named two justices to the high court, has 60 days within which to pick one of the three.

by Dan Margolies, Kansas News Service

For the first time in the history of Kansas, the three finalists for a vacancy on the state’s Supreme Court are all women.

The court on Monday announced that the three nominees for the opening created by the Sept. 18 retirement of Justice Carol Beier are Judge Kim Cudney, Judge Melissa Taylor Standridge and Kristen Wheeler.

Lisa Taylor, a spokeswoman for the court, said she’d reviewed the court’s news releases going back several decades. Typically, she said, the finalists included no more than one woman.

“So, yes, this is the first time that the pool of nominees have all been women,” Taylor said.

The court currently has two women justices: Chief Justice Marla Luckert, who was named to the court by Gov. Bill Graves in 2003; and Justice Evelyn Z. Wilson, who was named to the court by Gov. Laura Kelly in 2019.

The seven-member court has had three sitting female justices only twice before: When Wilson was appointed, she joined Beier and Luckert on the court. And before that, there was a three-and-a-half-year period from early 2011 to mid-2014 when Luckert, Beier and Justice Nancy Moritz, now a federal appeals court judge, sat on the the state’s high court.

The court’s first female justice — and later its first female chief justice — was Kay McFarland. She was appointed by Gov. Robert F. Bennett in 1977 and became chief justice in 1995. She stepped down in 2009 after reaching the state’s mandatory retirement age of 70.

As currently composed, the court is generally seen as left-leaning on issues of women’s rights, notably having ruled last year that a woman’s right to an abortion is rooted in the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

The three finalists for the current vacancy were chosen by a nine-member nominating commission consisting of five lawyers and four non-lawyers. Kelly, who has already named two justices — Wilson and K.J. Wall — has 60 days to pick one of the three.

Cudney, a resident of Greenleaf, has been chief judge of the 12th Judicial District, consisting of Cloud, Jewell, Lincoln, Mitchell, Republic, and Washington counties in north-central Kansas, since 2006. Before that, she was a research attorney for a federal district court judge and for Kansas Supreme Court Justice Harold Herd. She graduated from Kansas State University and Washburn University School of Law.

Standridge, a resident of Leawood, has been a Kansas Court of Appeals judge since February 2008. Before that she worked for a federal magistrate judge, a federal district court judge and for the Shook Hardy and Bacon law firm in Kansas City. She graduated from the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. She is married to former Jackson County Circuit Judge Richard T. Standridge, who recently retired.

Wheeler, a resident of Wichita, has been a law clerk for a federal district court judge since 2018. Before that, she was a lawyer with the Robinson Law Firm and with Morris Laing Evans Brock & Kennedy. She graduated from the University of Kansas and Washburn University School of Law.

Dan Margolies is senior reporter and editor at KCUR. He can be reached by email at dan@kcur.org or on Twitter @DanMargolies. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to https://ksnewsservice.org/

See more at https://www.kcur.org/news/2020-10-06/for-the-first-time-finalists-for-kansas-supreme-court-vacancy-are-all-women.