By Hunter Woodall
A federal judge on Wednesday found Secretary of State Kris Kobach in contempt of court in a case involving Kansas voting laws, her latest rebuke of the Republican candidate for governor.
Kobach is considered a GOP frontrunner despite his constant court battles involving voter fraud and strict voting requirements that he has pushed while in office as the state's top election official.
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson in Kansas City, Kan., referred repeatedly to Kobach as acting "disingenuously."
She chastised him for failing to treat the voters affected by the ongoing court case the same as all other registered voters in accordance with a previous court order.
"The term 'register' is not ambiguous, nor should there have been any question that these voters were to be treated just like any other registered voter," Robinson said in her order.
Instead of a fine in the contempt matter, Robinson ordered Kobach to pay attorneys fees for the plaintiffs in the case.
"The Court is troubled by Defendant's failure to take responsibility for violating this Court's orders, and for failing to ensure compliance over an issue that he explicitly represented to the Court had been accomplished," Robinson wrote.
Kobach spokesman Moriah Day said the secretary of state's office would be appealing Robinson's decision.
In 2016, Robinson ordered Kobach to fully register thousands of Kansas voters who had registered at the DMV but had failed to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, as required by a Kansas law that Kobach crafted.
Robinson had earlier scolded Kobach for initially informing the voters covered by her order that they were registered only for the 2016 election and for failing to ensure that they receive the same postcard notifications about their registration as other voters.
Robinson told Kobach during a 2016 telephone conference that she would hold him responsible for directing counties to send out these postcards. He promised to do his best and narrowly dodged a contempt hearing in 2016 because of this agreement.
"He admitted several times during the hearing that he understood the Court's order meant he was to treat those covered by the preliminary injunction the same as all other registered voters, which included sending the standard postcard upon registration," Robinson said in Wednesday'sorder.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in January asking the judge to hold Kobach in contempt and to impose sanctions for failing to send the postcards and failing to update the state's election manual.
"(Kobach) was in contempt of the court order, but he also has just demonstrated this pattern of non-compliance with the federal law and disregard for the very idea that citizens have a right to participate in their democracy," said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas.
Robinson later added in Wednesday's ruling that "Defendant is now in the process of sending the standard postcards to all registered voters."
Kobach is running against Gov. Jeff Colyer and two others for the GOP gubernatorial nomination this year. Kobach has greater name recognition than Colyer, who for the past seven years had been Gov. Sam Brownback's lieutenant, but he has struggled to raise money.
Colyer's spokesman declined to comment on the ruling Wednesday.
Kobach has advised President Donald Trump on potential changes to federal voting laws. He also has the support of the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., who campaigned for Kobach late last year.
Kobach was frequently chastised in court last month by Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee.
Kobach was previously fined $1,000 by the court last year after Robinson had concluded he had tried to mislead the court about documents related to a 2016 meeting with Trump.
Robinson noted in Wednesday's order Kobach narrowly escaped being held in contempt two years ago after he initially flouted her order to register the voters impacted by the case.
"Defendant has a history of noncompliance with the preliminary injunction order. He not only willfully failed to comply with the preliminary injunction for five months, but then only partially complied in October 2016 upon the threat of contempt," Robinson wrote.
Kansas Democratic Party Executive Director Ethan Corson said in a statement Wednesday that "Kobach has become an embarrassment to the state, and Kansas voters deserve better."
"Kris Kobach's costly voter suppression crusade is finally catching up with him," Corson said. "Kobach's steady string of self-promotional partisan maneuvers and costly taxpayer funded lawsuits illustrate his overwhelming unfitness to be the next governor of Kansas."
Rep. Keith Esau, an Olathe Republican who is running for secretary of state, defended Kobach.
"I believe that Kobach did what he could do within the office," Esau said. "I think the judge expected him to do things that were beyond what the office normally does."
An important part of the court case tied to Wednesday's contempt order has yet to be decided.
Robinson has yet to separately rule on the overall case involving Kobach, which will determine whether thousands can cast ballots this November when Kansas elects a new governor.
The Star's Bryan Lowry and Lindsay Wise contributed to this report.
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