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Phill Kine speaks before the Kansas Supreme Court Thursday.
Associated Press/Photo by Thad Allton (Topeka Capital-Journal)
Phill Kine speaks before the Kansas Supreme Court Thursday.

On trial

Abortion | Kansas Supreme Court hears ethics case against former attorney general who tried to prosecute Planned Parenthood

The now decade-long saga of former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline’s attempt to prosecute Planned Parenthood in criminal court is winding down.

The Supreme Court of Kansas Thursday held a hearing on a series of ethics charges against Kline, the former state attorney general who from 2002 to 2008 attempted to prosecute a Kansas City-area Planned Parenthood facility for failing to report cases of statutory rape, performing illegal abortions, and forging documents in an effort to avoid prosecution for failing to keep proper records. Dan Monet, an attorney who represented an abortionist Kline was investigating, filed the ethics complaint.

The last of 107 charges against Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri were dropped in August after Steve Howe, who replaced Kline as Johnson County, Kan., district attorney, reported to the court, apparently incorrectly, that all admissible copies of key evidence had been destroyed (see “Charges dismissed,” Aug. 24, and “The records exist,” Sept. 10).

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But Kline still faced disciplinary proceedings related to the six years he prosecuted Planned Parenthood and Wichita late-term abortionist George Tiller. A three-member panel of the Board of Discipline of Attorneys recommended in October 2011 that Kline’s Kansas law license be suspended “indefinitely,” which meant he could be eligible for reinstatement after three years. The state disciplinary administrator is asking that he be disbarred.

The Supreme Court will now rule on that recommendation. The court, which appointed the panelists and the prosecutor, has harshly criticized Kline in past judgments. Critics say it also deliberately stonewalled Kline’s prosecutions of Kansas abortionists until Kline lost elections for state attorney general and then Johnson County district attorney.

But after Kline filed strongly worded motions, five of the court’s seven members recused themselves (see “Kline fires back,” June 1). Two of the court’s regular members as well as two Kansas Court of Appeals judges and three District Court judges will hear the case.

In its report last year, the Board of Discipline said Kline repeatedly deceived officials in the course of his investigation and even tried to mislead the ethics panel. But Kline’s supporters believe the ethics investigation was the Kansas legal establishment’s naked attempt to discredit the prosecutor who had filed criminal charges against a powerful pro-abortion organization and intimidate other prosecutors around the country who might be considering similar investigations.

In court Thursday, Stan Hazlett, the disciplinary administrator, said, “This kind of misconduct would have been prosecuted no matter who the prosecutor was.”

But Kline’s lawyer Tom Condit, an Ohio attorney who has represented numerous clients in abortion-related cases in the past 20 years, suggested that the complaint Kline faced wasn’t about how he practiced law but who his investigation was targeting.

“I always smile when I hear judges, prosecutors, and attorneys saying about a case, ‘This isn’t about abortion,’” Condit said. “Let me tell you, folks, it’s always about abortion.”

“We think this is an extraordinary attack on a lawyer,” John Farnan, president of the pro-life National Lawyers Association, told me. “Frankly, a lot of it seems to be politically motivated.” If the court rules against Kline, he said, it will have a definite “chilling effect.”

Two previous ethics investigations in years past had already cleared Kline of the same charges the Board of Discipline heard yet again last year. For example, the board found that Kline and his investigators engaged in “dishonest conduct” when they told Kansas state officials that they wanted a series of abortion records to investigate a “serious latent sexual abuse problem” when they were investigating violations by the abortion facilities.

Kline has argued, and two previous ethics investigations agreed, that the statement is true (failing to report statutory rape contributes to sexual abuse) and that criminal investigators routinely do not—in fact, cannot—reveal everything to the people or institutions under investigation.

“I upheld my duty, upheld my oath of office and the integrity of my profession,” Kline said. “I will continue to speak and stand for the truth and for those who cannot speak for themselves. My ‘mistake’ was my willingness to investigate politically powerful people and to let that investigation go where the evidence led.”

The National Lawyers Association and the Life Legal Defense Foundation attempted to file “friend of the court” amicus briefs (download PDFs of NLA and LLDF briefs) refuting the allegations against Kline (download a PDF of the Board of Discipline’s final hearing report), but the court rejected both briefs as late.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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