Kansas Atty. Gen. Bob Stephan can't seem to escape the cloud of legal uncertainty that has followed him for much of his 13-year tenure.
The latest development is a federal grand jury indictment charging Stephan with perjury for telling a jury he didn't know the settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit against him was supposed to be kept secret. The charge is part of a continuing legal saga that has followed Stephan since 1982, when a former employee filed a lawsuit charging Stephan with making sexual advances and lewd comments.
That suit was settled out of court in 1985, but it was hardly laid to rest. Terms of the settlement were to be kept confidential. Stephan released those terms during his 1985 re-election campaign. The employee, Marcia Tomson Stingley, responded with another lawsuit, won damages, but was never paid because Stephan declared bankruptcy. The latest charges contend that Stephan and a political associate conspired to lie during a trial on the second lawsuit by saying they didn't know the settlement was to be kept secret.
While it is difficult to believe that the secrecy clause in the settlement could have been overlooked by Stephan, he must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The main concern of Kansans, is how this latest indictment affects Stephan's ability to do his job as the state's top law enforcement officer.
Every state would hope that all its key officials but especially its attorney general would be free of legal controversy and would conduct both their personal and professional lives in a way that would bring no embarrassment to the state. The long litigation with Ms. Stingley doesn't reflect well on Stephan or his office, and all Kansans should hope that it is resolved once and for all as soon as possible.
It will be left to legal experts and historians to assess whether Stephan has served the state well as attorney general. He certainly has been able to overcome many personal and health setbacks while continuing to be re-elected and retain his office.
If Stephan is found guilty, he should resign. If he is cleared of the charges he should redouble his efforts to put himself above any future controversy. If he wants to remain in office, he should conduct himself and direct those in his office to conduct themselves in a manner that is above reproach, both professionally and personally.
In the past, Stephan has been able to bounce back from serious blows. Perhaps he will be able to clear his name in the latest situation. But it is imperative, both for the good of Stephan and the state, that this long-standing, embarrassing matter be settled quickly and fairly.