Judge retires after 27 years on the bench

Judge Steve Leben, L’82, retired after a 27-year judicial career. Photo courtesy of Judge Steve Leben.

Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Steve Leben, L’82, retired his judicial robes and gavel on June 26.

Leben’s judicial career spanned 27 years. Most recently, he served as a judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals for the past 13 years. Previously, he was a district judge at the Johnson County District Court for 14 years.

Prior to his judicial career, Leben worked in private practice for 11 years.

“I didn’t really plan to be a judge, but that was the primary part of my career,” Leben said. “I wouldn’t want to change that for anything.”

In addition to his time on the bench, Leben has taught at the University of Kansas School of Law as an adjunct faculty member since 2007. At KU Law, he has taught Legislation & Statutory Interpretation for 13 years and taught Evidence for three years.

“I’ve taught part-time at KU since 2007,” Leben said. “I’ve enjoyed that thoroughly.”

Leben is originally from El Dorado, Kansas. He graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism in 1978 and with a Juris Doctor in 1982.


Judge Steve Leben received the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence from the National Center for State Courts in 2014 for his work on improving fairness in U.S. courts. Leben (right) is pictured with his wife, Dr. Ann Warner, and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. Photo courtesy of Judge Steve Leben.

Judicial fairness

Throughout his judicial career, Leben used his platform to help promote judicial fairness throughout the country. He co-authored a white paper on procedural fairness for the American Judges Association in 2007 with Minnesota trial judge Kevin Burke. The pair have made presentations in 20 states to more than 2,500 state and federal judges.

He received the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence from the National Center for State Courts in 2014 for his work on improving fairness in U.S. courts. Leben also co-founded proceduralfairness.org, a website devoted to procedural fairness in courts.

“I think that work has been significant in helping judges focus on something that can really improve the experience that people have with their justice system,” Leben said.

He also edited a national quarterly publication for judges, Court Review, for 20 years.

“Court Review let me shape the national agenda of what other judges were thinking about,” Leben said. “I helped focus judges nationally on making sure people feel fairly treated as they go through the court system.”

Judge Steve Leben received the Robert K. “Weary” Award from the Kansas Bar Foundation in 2019. Leben co-founded a CLE program called Ethics For Good in 2000 with Mark Hinderks, L’82, and former KU Law Professor Stan Davis. Photo courtesy of the Kansas Bar Foundation.

Professional service, scholarship

Leben served as president of the American Judges Association from 2006 to 2007 and has held several roles in the Kansas Bar Association and American Bar Association. Leben has taught more than 100 accredited Continuing Legal Education (CLE) programs.

Twenty-one years ago, Leben co-founded a CLE program called Ethics For Good with Mark Hinderks, L’82, and former KU Law Professor Stan Davis. They received the Robert K. “Weary” Award in 2019, which recognizes lawyers or law firms for exemplary service and commitment to the goals of the Kansas Bar Foundation. The program has raised more than $750,000 in donations to various nonprofit organizations.

Leben has received many national service awards throughout his career, including the Distinguished Service Award from the National Center for State Courts in 2003. From the American Judges Association, he received the Harold V. Froehlich Award for Judicial Courage in 2016 and the Chief Justice Richard W. Holmes Award of Merit in 2017.

He has also published 15 law review articles in the areas of procedural justice, administrative law, civil procedure, family law and evidence. His scholarly publications have been cited by state and federal courts in Kansas and in more than 75 law journal articles by other authors.

Judge Steve Leben speaks with students at a KU Law event in 2019. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

Plans for the future

After 27 years on the bench, Leben is ready to start the next chapter of his life. In the fall, he will teach full-time at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law as a visiting professor. Leben will teach Criminal Law, Appellate Advocacy and Legislation.

“I am very much excited about doing teaching full-time,” Leben said. “I don’t believe I would have the opportunity to teach full-time at any law school if I hadn’t had the opportunity to hone my teaching skills at KU. I am very grateful to Dean [Stephen] Mazza and his predecessors for giving me that chance.”

In addition to his appointment at UMKC Law, Leben intends to continue teaching a summer Evidence class at KU Law for the foreseeable future.

— By Ashley Golledge

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