Kansas Supreme Court Justices on Monday morning peppered attorneys for re-seated Prairie Village City Councilor David Morrison and the Johnson County District Attorney’s office with questions in the state’s appeal of the decision that put Morrison back in office last fall.
Morrison was initially expelled after his council peers voted unanimously to oust him following the revelation that he had let a homeless friend with a history of drug abuse stay unaccompanied at Prairie Village City Hall in October 2012.
That ouster vote was brought before district court judge David Hauber by the Johnson County District Attorney’s office in the fall of 2013. After hearing the decision of an advisory jury after three days of testimony, Hauber ruled that Morrison had shown “breathtakingly bad” judgment and ordered him removed from office.
But judges with the Kansas Court of Appeals sided with Morrison a year later, reversing Hauber’s decision and ordering that Morrison be reseated on the council. The Johnson County District Attorney appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which granted the petition for review in January.
On Monday, Johnson County Assistant District Attorney Steven Obermeier told the justices that Morrison had clearly violated the city’s code of ethics, which consequently met the burden set forth in the Kansas statute defining grounds for forfeiture of public office. That statute says officials who “willfully engage in misconduct while in office” are subject to removal.
“Cities…can enact their own codes,” Obermeier said. “And if they want to require ethical conduct, they should be allowed to do that.”
But Sharp countered strongly that Morrison’s actions — which he acknowledged were poorly thought out — did not rise to the level of being an oustable offense, and that removing an elected official from his or her seat must be reserved for situations in which an official’s conduct is so egregious that it becomes imperative that they are removed quickly to reduce additional public harm.
Such occasions, Sharp argued, are limited to instances in which they pose a “grave threat either to public safety or to the public fisc,” as noted in the ruling of the appeals court.
“If you’d taken him to a church, great, but you didn’t. You’d taken him to a city hall, and that’s the improper, wrong way to do it,” Sharp said of Morrison’s decision to allow Malone to stay at city hall. “And so you’re subject to recall if you do something that is wrong like that… It’s not subject to ouster. It’s subject to recall.”
On two occasions in his remarks before the justices, Sharp incorrectly identified Morrison as the current sitting president of the Prairie Village City Council, seeming to suggest the position was a sign of the esteem in which is council colleagues hold him. In fact, Ashley Weaver is the current council president, and the rules dictating who fills the role make it largely ceremonial.