OLATHE, Kan.-A potential political scandal in Kansas grew wider Wednesday as Johnson Country District Attorney Stephen Howe revealed that a former state attorney general in 2009 destroyed copies of records important to the prosecution of abortion provider Planned Parenthood. The documents were copies of records that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) had destroyed in 2005 in what it called a "routine" shredding.
Howe told Johnson County District Court Judge Stephen Tatum that the "legal hurdles are insurmountable" to prosecute Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri on 23 felony counts of false writing (or forging client records) and 26 misdemeanor counts and asked the judge to dismiss those charges, a request granted by Tatum. A Feb. 22, 2012, hearing will involve 58 additional misdemeanor counts of failure to determine the viability of unborn children and unlawful late-term abortions.
The revelations come more than two weeks after Howe had asked the court for more time to gather evidence after learning of the KDHE's 2005 shredding of records related to the case (see "Shredded evidence," by Les Sillars, Oct. 25). In seeking to gather more evidence, Howe learned that former Kansas Attorney General Steve Six, a Democrat appointed by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, had destroyed copies of those records in April 2009. Howe suggested that Six's destruction of the copies might have violated the retention policy of the state attorney general's office.
A representative from the firm where Six now practices law said he was not available for comment. Sebelius, who oversaw the KDHE as governor in 2005, left office in 2009, when President Barack Obama appointed her to be secretary of Health and Human Services, a Cabinet position she continues to hold.
A previous Kansas attorney general, Republican Phill Kline, had obtained the copies of the records during his office's investigation of Planned Parenthood in 2004. During Wednesday's hearing, Pedro Irigonegaray, attorney for Planned Parenthood, called Kline's investigation an "inquisition." (For more on Kline's investigation, see "Patience and providence," by Les Sillars, Oct. 31.)
The current Kansas attorney general, Derek Schmidt, a Republican, has asked the Shawnee County Sheriff's Office in Topeka, the state capital, to investigate whether the destruction of the copies complied with state law and the records retention policy of the attorney general's office. Shawnee County Sheriff Dick Barta has indicated that his office will accept the case. In a letter to the sheriff's office, Schmidt said the attorney general's office "has a conflict of interest and so cannot conduct this investigation."
After the hearing, Mary Kay Culp of Kansans for Life called on the Kansas Legislature to review the case in its entirety. "Guilty people destroy evidence," she said. "Really guilty people destroy evidence twice."