WICHITA, Kansas – The state of Kansas gets sued. Lawsuits cover a little bit of everything from school funding to the actions taken by former Attorney General Phill Kline. And the state defense comes from the Attorney General’s office.
“Why is that not public? That’s a good question. It should be. It absolutely should be, “says Democrat Kansas House Representative Jim Ward. “Absolutely. It’s public dollars and it should be listed on what firms are getting it and how much.”
Much of the spending of the AG’s office is public.
But Ward contends the information about nearly $8 Million spent on outside firms doing specialty work on some lawsuits, is not easily accessible to the public.
“If you can find that information on his facebook page, or if it’s all spelled out in an easy to find arena, then fine, that is easy public access,” says Ward. “But, if you have to do a freedom of information request for some… $7 Million or $8 Million in spending, then that is not easily, publicly accessible.”
Ward goes on to say, he understands some work has to be done outside the office of the Attorney General.
“Look, I know some of this has to be done outside the Attorney General’s office,” says Ward. “But some of the lawsuits being defended… It is the consequence of poor legislative action. And a lot of times, these bills, we told people, if you pass this, we are going to spend a lot of time defending it, because it has a history of being unconstitutional or inappropriate legislative action. So this is the consequence of bad legislative action.”
Ward says the fact remains, that there are lawsuits that need to be aggressively defended. Ward just wants some public accountability.
He is not alone.
Government Watchdog Bob Weeks of Wichita says the monies spent on private law firms outside the AG’s office should be made public.
“It’s important to know who that money was spent on (and) the law firms that were doing the work,” says Weeks. “How much was spent? Perhaps the details like the hourly rates that were paid as far as the actual work product of the attorneys? I would imagine that is probably something that is protected by attorney-client privilege.”
Republican Representative Steven Brunk of Wichita says he agrees transparency in government is a good idea. Especially when it comes to protecting the public and the best interests of the state.
“There has to be a level of trust in your public officials to do the right thing,” says Brunk. “But there is often sensitive information that has to be safeguarded during (or leading up to) trials. Sometimes there is sensitive information that should not yet be public. That is the caveat. But I am a big proponent of open government.”
KSN asked for comment on the “outsourced” spending from current Attorney General Derek Schmidt. A spokesperson said, as of Wednesday, Schmidt was not available for comment.