The newest Kansas Court of Appeals judges are Jacy Hurst and Lesley Isherwood after the Kansas Senate confirmed Gov. Laura Kelly’s picks on Tuesday.
Hurst and Isherwood will replace former appellate judges Melissa Standridge and Steve Leben, respectively, filling up the remaining vacancies on the court. Standridge was sent up to the state Supreme Court, while Leben retired.
Notably, Hurst will be the first woman of color on the Court of Appeals.
A Lawrence resident, she is a partner with the law firm Kutak Rock LLP in Kansas City, Missouri. Much of her legal career was spent representing businesses in the employment, health care and regulatory areas. She has also provided pro bono legal services to individuals in criminal and family law cases.
However, her experience with the courts system came much earlier, growing up in a single-mother family with parents who didn’t graduate college.
“As a child, I experienced divorce, violence, homelessness, poverty early on, and those were my introductions to the law,” Hurst said at her confirmation hearing. “That’s where I met my first lawyers and judges.”
She said her experiences led her to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter, and all that drove her to practice law.
Isherwood is the senior assistant district attorney for Sedgwick County and has been a prosecutor since 1999. She’s argued more than 100 cases before Kansas appellate courts and authored over 1,000 appellate briefs, a strength she brought up during her confirmation hearing.
“The appellate judiciary has been the most comfortable, intellectual environment for me,” Isherwood said. “My 22 years of appellate practice is what makes me the ideal appointee.”
Both highlighted the community work they did outside law, from mentoring disadvantaged women to coaching recreational soccer. And lawmakers praised both for the work and expertise they have.
The one thing Republican senators wanted to make sure during confirmation hearings was that they would not be “activist judges” and would not “legislate from the bench.” Such fears could be tied to when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 abortion was a state constitutional right, a case many conservatives saw as judicial activism.
The two candidates reaffirmed they wouldn’t be judicial activists, describing themselves as originalists, as opposed to treating the Constitution as a living document.
“When you’re looking at the plain letter of the law, I would fall under the traditionalist approach,” said Isherwood. “I would follow the longstanding law of this state, that the intent of the Legislature must control as evidenced by the language that’s utilized in those statutes.”
Hurst sought to assure lawmakers the same thing, noting how her business clients would have been hurt from judges who legislated from the bench.
“I appreciate judges who have a narrow focus and who exercise judicial restraint. To me, that’s my philosophy,” she said.