Kay Eleanor McFarland
Kay Eleanor McFarland
About this chapter
Professional life, home life, what things I loved in and about life, and more.
As an Adult, I stayed busy…
After my time as a Juvenile Court Judge I ran to become a District Court Judge. When I was 30 years old I was elected. This was in 1973. I was sworn in at 11am. I had Gladys with me, an outspoken court reporter who had agreed to work with me. Her husband was in the air force and they had come to Topeka because of that. While I was being sworn in, I was assigned cases to Division 5 and the county attorney was filing a lawsuit to my court’s name, with no defendant name, meaning they were filing criminal action against a certain property. The property in question was the Princess Theatre, the first adult film theatre in Shawnee County. I remember being sworn in on a Tuesday and the next day the county attorney wanted me to seize all the property from that theatre. The day after that on the front page of the paper was Gladys and I entering the adult theatre. By looks alone, it didn’t look like a promising first week of the job. When we were preparing for the trial, Gladys opened up the box of all the seized items and saw something that resembled parts of the human anatomy and asked me where to put the sticker to identify it. I told her to use her best judgement and put the stickers wherever she deemed most appropriate.
There were many things as a judge I had to do but didn’t want to do, and many cases I had to hear that were less than desirable. In those days I rotated through different courtrooms, including the courtroom of Judge Carpenter. He had graduated from Harvard and only had Harvard reading materials in his courtroom. It surprised him when I heard the case against the Princess Theatre in the courtroom next to his. All of the reporters were banded together in my courtroom, as many felt the subject matter was too good to pass over. One day we were all made to watch a film entitled “Spread for Action.” This film was property seized from the theatre. In the movie the girls were wearing school-girl outfits and were making lewd noises. The majority of these noises managed to filter through to Carpenter’s waiting room, where the people there were wondering what the heck was going on. Because I found the film to have no redeeming quality or value, I asked that it be turned off and taken out of my courtroom.
Another court case I found to be disturbing, this time involving a Mexican family, concerned a father who was accused of having sex with his daughters when they turned twelve. One of the young girls didn’t want this to happen to her other sister and went to the police. The mother was put on the stand. The prosecutor said this is an old family tradition of having sex with the daughters when they come of age, then when the prosecutor asked one of the older sisters if this had happened to her when she turned twelve and she answered, “Well I don’t remember.” I knew this had to be a yes, so we took the kids out of the home. The mother was adamant that nothing like this had happened before, which I knew was a lie. We later learned the husband got home from work around 4p while the mother got home from work around 6p. When I asked the wife how she knew this wasn’t occurring, she said because I asked my husband and he said it wasn’t true.
Another story involved a nice man who unfortunately was subject to frequent and unpleasant outbursts. One day Kathryn Jackson came in and said, there is a case this afternoon and the father is a decent nice man, but he suffers from an undiagnosed disease where he will shout at people for no reason and the state wants to take the kids away. The mother mentioned when the father gets pale and shaky is when you need to become concerned. I decided to talk to Newt Vickers, the Administrative Judge about the situation. He said I should go to the sheriff’s office and ask for a deputy to sit in my courtroom, so I did, and when I got there all these guys were standing around admiring their guns. Larry McLane was the county attorney at the time. The trial started and sure enough, this guy started to become pale and shaky. I called for a recess to determine the next best course of action. In chambers, Larry said I think we are in agreement to involuntary commit the guy in case something happens. We called for the deputy and told him the plan. This particular deputy didn’t think he could handle the father on his own, so the sheriff’s office sent down another deputy. Together the two still didn’t believe they could handle the guy, so they went and got a straight-jacket to keep him from hurting others. They called the father over and jumped on him and put the jacket on him in the hallway. There was a wedding scheduled to occur later that day and I was to officiate. Everyone heard the scuffle in the hall between the father and the deputys, and all I could think to say to the couple waiting to get married is in this county when you decide to form a marital partnership with one another we don’t allow the grooms to back out!
When they added Division five to the circuit they took the very worst cases in the four Divisions and gave them to Division five. I worked Division five and frequently received a list of really bad cases. I worked extremely hard though at getting through them and ended up with the lowest number of cases unheard. At that time, it was decided to divide up all the cases, so the good judges ended up with a bunch of cases from one particular lazy judge. I didn’t really care about the other judges who were lazy and not getting their cases heard. This was also during the time the Court of Appeals came and asked me to be on it. I didn’t want to because it meant running all over the state. District courts were in the process of changing because each District was going to be responsible for moving their own cases forward and the judges were all a group now within the District, so if someone was slacking off, the entire court would be held accountable. One judge in particular became extremely paranoid. If he was in a jury trial and had scheduled a no-fault divorce he wanted you to hear, they’d go back and get the sheet for the trial and you’d hear it and then he’d come back and say that someone was stealing his cases. This is before the time that judges had their own individual courtrooms. I remember one time Newt Vickers, who couldn’t stand to hurt anyone’s feelings, got so tense and nervous during the day that he walked home to Potwin to try and relax. Many of us felt he became too involved in the cases he heard. Another time Vickers stopped by his office to get something to take home and asked why he was still hearing cases late into the evening and he said, “don’t you realize that if you drop dead they will just get another judge to hear your cases?”
In those days there was a statue that said your pay would be stopped if cases did not get resolved. The principle is a good one, that judges shouldn’t get involved in other judges cases, but if I was going to get all the bad cases because someone else wasn’t doing their work then I believed this to be wrong. I recall one time when my office resembled that of a mad librarian. I went to another judge’s office and his desk was very neat and tidy and I said it must be wonderful to be all caught up and he opened his sliding door in the closet and it had a huge stack of files in it! We all did our best to speed cases up and increase efficiency, but it’s not as easy as you would think.
I had a reputation for getting everything done on my docket each day. If I had several things scheduled I would always get through them all. One day Chuck Macatee represented a woman in a divorce case from Maple Hill. Around 5 o’clock he came to me and I said I’d stay around for the trail in the divorce case as the judge and they put as the main argument child support and needed grounds of incapacity. The husband testified first and said about the wife she’s not a good housekeeper, she doesn’t do the dishes, and when my mother comes to the house and it is very dirty. Then the wife got on the stand and said he doesn’t do the yard work, so I said this is getting out of hand and let’s just settle the child support issue. The lawyer representing the husband, Mr. Macatee, said to the wife “who is the father of your first child?” I stopped the discussion there and said don’t answer that question. During that period of time divorce cases were always a fight.
I never paid much attention to awards or medals. In some ways the District Court was the most satisfying job I ever had. The District Court is the highest trial court in Kansas. Any big civil lawsuit comes from the District court. You have a lot of cases in this court and one of the things I really liked was that my calendar was a week at a glance and the time segments were filled with different trails with 20-30 different items. There were some that took up too much space on the calendar, but most of the cases were interesting because they had names and faces.
In 1977 I had a hysterectomy, and my father came to visit me in the hospital with a former judge, Judge Johnson. I knew Johnson, but not that well. He came to tell me there was going to be a vacancy on the Supreme Court and several people were hoping to get me nominated. I was so sick at the time I didn’t care or pay attention to the news. That was, until after I began to heal and was out of the hospital. At that point I began to appreciate the idea more and more. Johnson nominated me, and the commission at that time said it was not customary to meet with potential nominees. I was sitting in my office and Ron Keefover comes in and says, “Congratulations, you were picked by the Governor for the Supreme Court from three names that were submitted.” Actually, there were two vacancies, one for myself and one for Judge Holmes. No one knew exactly when Governor Bennett was going to make the announcement about the nominations. Court week was coming up and everyone thought the Governor would name someone at that time, but he didn’t, so I travelled to Oklahoma for a dog show. When I got back from the show on Sunday night the telephone rang. The voice on the other end said, “This is Governor Bennett and I’ve selected you to serve on the Kansas Supreme Court.” I was elated and thought I had to immediately begin my new job. The irony of the situation was that Chief Justice Shroeder didn’t even know I had been appointed. I called Judge Vickers to inform him I was leaving the District Court and that Monday would begin my position on the Supreme Court. I decided I had to be at there (at the Supreme Court) first thing Monday morning and began to become concerned upon realizing that the Chief Justice didn’t even seem aware of my nomination.
That Monday I went to court (Supreme Court) and Jim Pricher, the clerk, comes buzzing over and says the first row was for the family of the judge’s being sworn in (myself and Holmes). No one besides my parents knew I had been selected. Because there were two judges being sworn in that day, half the court took Holmes and the other half was for me. Justice Fromme was one of the judges that was on my side of the court that day and after being sworn in said, “This is the last thing I will do for you.”
I was sworn in with my dad introducing me to the court. There were all sorts of strange customs at the Supreme Court which were unfamiliar to me. My new office was Schroeder’s old office. One reasons they gave me his old office was because there were two offices in the statehouse on the second floor, with Schroeder’s office also on the second floor. It was a strange shaped office. I would go in to hear cases and came out during recess and wondered, “Why do they have all of these depressions in the carpet?” I later found out it was because people were moving the furniture. There was a new Supreme Court building opening, and everyone was to have all new furniture. At the time of my swearing in, and in my office, the rolling chair at my desk was missing a castor. I remember trying to get a new one, but they weren’t fixing anything since we were all scheduled to transition into the new building. The aesthetics of my first office while as a judge on the Supreme Court was old, broken furniture in an un-air conditioned room, and I thought to myself this is what I’ve worked so hard for?
When I began my tenure on the Supreme Court cases derived from the District Courts to the Supreme Court. Because of this, in 1978 the state made a determination to establish the Court of Appeals. Governor Bennett appointed all the judges to the court of Appeals. All appealed cases went before the Court of Appeals except for murder cases and in instances where a law had been considered unconstitutional. The Supreme Court could also reach down and take cases, and they did since their caseload quickly diminished with the new Appellate Court. There had been a rule in place that if a District Judge did not decide a case in a certain amount of time they could suspend his salary.
I happen to know a little bit about a lot of things which has helped me to get along with others who know more than I do. For example, I knew a lot about horses and certain types of other animals, which helped me to establish a tight bond with Justice Shroeder, who had an interest in cattle and quarter horses. Because of this we got along well; we had a common interest. I’ve found that you can connect with people on unusual subjects if you know even a little something about it. This is how I began my friendship with the Chief, through our shared interest in animals.
After years spent on the Supreme Court, in 1995 I was appointed as the first female Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court. The best back handed compliment I ever received was from retiring Chief Justice Shroeder. Story has it he wasn’t initially in favor of my becoming a Supreme Court Justice. As we settled into our new building and our professional lives together, two Chief Justices from other states came to visit. Our Supreme Court building was considered state of the art at the time and they wanted to see it for themselves. I was walking by as they stood in front of the elevator and the Chief introduced us. As I began to walk away I overheard one of them say how unusual it was to have a woman on the Supreme Court. As they entered the elevator I heard the Chief say, “yes, it is unusual but I think we are fortunate that we got one of the good ones.”
Nora was one of my clerks and I asked her to came with me from the District Court after I was appointed to the Supreme Court. Once I transitioned into this new role, quite unfortunately she had to take a pay cut. Judge Alex Fromme informed me they were cutting all of the clerk salaries (and was happy to relay this news, by the way), so I subsidized Nora’s salary until her pay was incrementally increased to what it had been prior to leaving the District Court.
Judge Fromme and Judge Fatzer made all the decisions about the new Supreme Court building. I recall Schroeder having nothing to do with it. The architects designed the interior with a lady who made a fortune off her designs. She came by my office after the building was finished and wanted to know where I wished to place my furniture, which was a desk much like a library table. She then proceeded to show me the desk chair that was only a few feet high and cost $5,000. I said I don’t want that and she said it was too late. I went steaming mad down to Schroeder’s office and said have you seen this furniture and do you have any idea how much it costs? I told him I had just a table and chair and he said that wouldn’t do at all, so he called the architect and we changed the order. He came back to me and asked me if I was available to go to the Office Supply store, so we did, and we picked out our furniture from there. I remember us being at the store until 10pm, choosing the design for our offices. This bothered Fromme so much; that Schroeder and I would just voluntarily go out and choose our own office furniture.
I sat to Fromme’s left on the end (number seven – seen and not heard) and the Supreme Court conference room seating was prioritized by seniority. We were sitting in dead silence one day when Fromme says to me, “you know there’s one good thing about you coming on the court, the judges don’t swear and tell dirty stories like they used to.” He never smiled and was such a sour man. I had a good relationship with the Chief, which upset Fromme immensely.
Hobbies & Favorites
My hobbies included gardening, show horses, show dogs, quilting, sewing, cooking, reading, and tending to animals. One of my family's favorite thing to do when I was young was to go down to the ponds and sit in the cool summer breezes, watch the wild life and tell stories. I also sewed many of my clothes and made prize winning quilts. I gave Judge Christel Marquardt's son a wedding present of one of the quilts I made. I also was into crafts and ordering things from QVC. I knew I was on good customer terms when I could return what I ordered many months later. The UPS driver and Fed Ex Drivers made very frequent stops at Roy Road. And, the UPS staff at the store on Wanamaker and 29th also became familiar with me and my returns to QVC. I would watch QVC often and get to know the salespeople. When I thought there was something really nice and inexpensive, I'd share it with Elaine, or Maureen, and or Christel, my friends.
My favorite color is red and while I don’t have a favorite song I do like a lot of country music. One day Judge Terry Bullock was on the court and we were talking about music and he was joking with me and said "I’ve only known you to like two types of music: Country and Western." Most of the CD's and records I ever purchased were country and western.
Besides horses, travel is my favorite pastime. The most interesting place I’ve ever visited was Africa. I loved all the wildlife. I was already a judge the first time I visited in 1970. On that trip I visited: Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa and Egypt. Americans sort of quit going to Egypt when the Russians were in control. We had a guide who took us across the Nile River and said that tourists had a terrible time when the Russians were there. While we were there the Egyptians were having disbutes with Israel. One day as we were entering the British Museum some people in our group spotted a bridge over the Nile River and began taking photographs of it. A policeman came up and said, “no pictures of the bridges,” as if tourists would take photos and then send them back to Israel.
After we left Egypt we flew to Nairobi and I recall being amazed at how big Sudan was. The flight took several hours, and my ears felt like they were going to explode. We went into the hotel and asked the clerk for a medical doctor and they had one that made house calls, so the very British doctor came straight away and fixed my ear problem almost immediately.
In Kenya we visited Leopards Lodge. It had raised platforms where leopards would come out to eat. Specifically we were at Tree Tops (the location where Queen Elizabeth was when she found out that her father was dying and would soon become queen), a wonderful place brilliantly illuminated at night, and where the staff put salt on the river banks so the animals will come in to lick the salt and drink the water for guests viewing purposes. We arrived in the afternoon and you have to walk a distance up to the lodge, with a guide in front and in back of you, all with rifles for protection. The rooms have little balconies where the animals will run up to you, particularly baboons. The lodge tells you not to feed them, but most people don’t listen. I was sitting in a little chair one day and reached around for my purse and instantly a baboon is sitting there also, on the railing, so I put a piece of bread out for him. I’ve got my hand on my purse, and another hand on the railing, and all of a sudden I have this strange sensation of a second set of hands on my purse, and guess what, it was the baboon. Once my bread ran out the baboon left looking for another food source.
My family and I celebrated Christmas Eve at Leopards Lodge where they serve a wonderful plum pudding. The baboons were all sitting on the walls and there were Germans there who had very expensive cameras. The lodge has people chasing the baboons away, yet they always return. A baboon even stole my mom’s plum pudding. You can’t believe how many baboons there are. One looked at me and snarled and the reaction of the other baboons was to chase him away because he had ruined it for all of them. They knew they couldn’t snarl at us because they would not be able to stay in that particular area of the lodge. We saw a lot of baboons inside the park as well. When you were in your car you would see them, and the mothers would have their babies on their back and would come up to your car and put the babies up to the windows for food. Those baboons weren’t as dumb as people made them out to be.
In another lodge we stayed in, we arrived very early after having flown all night long. I laid down on the cot and there was a wart hog under my bed. I learned later he was the park mascot.
A man by the name of Gary Clarke was my guide on many trips I took to Africa in the years that followed. Everyone knew him very well and each place we went was almost like a family reunion. One time we were in a park and it was getting close to dark. We were planning to take the canoes down the Zambezi. I was a bit frightened because I couldn’t swim, and I knew there were loads of crocodiles. They told me it didn’t spook the animals if you were in a canoe. Gary said, “oh you just have to go,” so I did. The trip ended up being a once in a lifetime experience. At dusk we took the canoes out and were accompanied by the owner of the tour company and Gary pops up and has a bottle of Grey Poupon mustard, just like in the TV commercials, and we all laughed at seeing a bottle of American mustard in a canoe in Africa.
The fiber glass canoe had a white strip down the back, which looked like a combination of paint and glue. We asked the guide what happened, and he said a hippo had bit into the boat. I turned to him and asked what I should do if the canoe turns over and he said to run on top of the water to the beach!
After this wonderful journey we returned to Nairobi. We landed at noon and had such an amazing experience we were desperate to leap into another adventure. Instead of going straight to the hotel we tried to book a flight to the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. We weren’t sure if we would be able to find anyone willing to fly us there, but eventually we did and it was such a wonderful experience as well. Quite different than Leopards Lodge, but equally as fantastic.
Over the years I had many prized pets. I always considered animals to be my best friends, from dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, and even wild life. The horses were very special in my early days. I spent so much time with them and Midnight Secret, was the most special. Then the Palomino. The wolf hounds that Nora and I took to dog shows were also special to me. I never remember being without animals that made me happy and gave me the opportunity to love another living creature. Pearl was my special dog during my first days at my new home on Roy Road near Auburn. She must have been almost 12 when she became sick and I had to decide after taking her to many veterinarians and even K-State that her quality of life was not good at all. I then got two cats, after trying another dog that yipped all the time. The first was Betty, a calico cat that purred and kept me company. I added Charlie, a gray fury cat and soon Charlie and Betty became inseparable. They were constant entertainers with bringing lots of wild life, such as birds and voles in and dropping them at my feet or even in my face while I napped. My charitable contributions included many animal non-profits from the Cat Association, to Helping Hands, to Second Chance Animal Rescue, to the National Humane Society, to the National Conservancy Group. I even contributed to "Save the Prairie Dog" that was becoming extinct on the Kansas Prairie.
When we first allowed camera’s in the courtroom there would be these really unsavory looking cameramen that would film our court proceedings. One time I looked behind my chair and there was a guy sitting behind it going through my lawbooks. Security had to come and remove him from my court. At first I thought it was a the camera operator but it turned out to be some random man in the court. We never had a dress code in the court until that incident. After that we did.
I felt most proud
The Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee, where my horse Midnight Secret was crowned the National World Champion of Walking Horses. There were all kinds of pictures of his silver trophies, punch bowl, tea sets, and platters and plates. Midnight Secret was the most precious of all my accomplishments.
The first Irish wolfhound I ever saw was bred by a retired military woman who had built a firing range. She raised wolfhounds and steeple chase thoroughbreds. To her credit she raised several Olympians. She went to Ireland and one of the horses she had bred had won a big race. In Ireland the breeder is much more important than the owner and they honored that individual in the winner’s circle; same was true for both horses as for dogs. The Irish government made a lot of import/export money on horses worldwide. Also interesting to note is that a breeder has the national stud and locals can bring their mares and have them bred.
From that point on I wanted to visit Ireland. We decided to go one year after I had purchased by my first Irish Wolfhound. I was interested in meeting the dog’s parents and the people who raised the animals. We flew into England and drove to Ireland. We were novices at driving on the right-hand side of the road. We were on the M from Manchester to Wales. The roads were sunk down so far it was like driving on a deep dish with the trees meeting overhead; almost like driving in a tunnel. The road was very narrow and there was a local holiday so lots of people were driving to the beach. Some people were having a little picnic and there was no shoulder, but they stopped to eat and had their feet dangling on the road. They liked to put the stone walls up against the road. It was hard to accept that the car was always narrower than what it is, so I would be driving and my tire would hit the stone wall. I actually hit the hubcap right off the car and the rental shop said not to worry because it happened all the time. We learned from a little old lady that at the crossroads section we needed to turn right where we would find the family we were looking for. When we found the farm, we introduced ourselves to the owners and met their two boys. I remember that as such a wonderful trip.
I thought it was lovely when the Topeka Women attorneys began awarding the McFarland award.
Positive Impact on my Community
I always wanted to share stories and information about juries. Real life trials can be so interesting. Jurors always seem to be so preoccupied even in the most boring trials. They hang on to every word. I can think of two particular cases: one was an assault case where 20 people were witnesses and friends who testified. The defendant got on the stand and said, “I wasn’t even here that weekend, I was in Toledo.” The jury seemed so surprised. They think they aren’t hearing it right and lean forward, one by one, and ultimately realize he is lying like a dog.
In another trial this guy was suing for a back injury he said he incurred during a traffic accident. He testified that he was hurt in an accident and when cross examined the state submitted an accident form indicating he actually had been injured on the job and had received workman’s comp for it. The prosecuting attorney had the liability report with his signature on it. When asked whether or not it was his signature, the man says, “well I don’t know, I’m not a handwriting expert.” Their attorney then asks, “isn’t it true this is your car,” as they hand him a picture of his car and he responds, “well I don’t know as there are a lot of green cars out there and this car looks all banged up.” The attorney next asks, were you injured in a car accident three years ago? The questioning carried on and the jury finally realized he was lying but it took them so long to come to this conclusion. Like most other jurors, they were so uncomfortable with the defendant and didn’t want to make eye contact with him.
Another case, this time being heard in Salina, the attorneys picked a jury. One of the jurors was a buddy of the defendant. One attorney asked the other, I can’t understand why the judge would have left that particular guy on the jury, as he has already served a sentence for drugs.” The prosecutor answered by saying, “who do you think turned this guy into the police?”