Topeka — The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday suspended the law license of Chris Miller, a Lawrence attorney and Republican Party activist, for two years for "fleecing" the Kansas Insurance Department.
The dispute started in 1995 when then newly elected Kansas Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius refused to pay a bill from Miller for $375,900 that he said he was owed for representing the department in cases filed against the Kansas Workers Compensation Fund. Sebelius is now governor.
When Sebelius said the fees were unjustified, Miller sued, alleging Sebelius was striking back at him politically because Miller had worked as campaign manager for Republican Ron Todd, the commissioner that Sebelius defeated in the 1994 election.
Sebelius filed a counterclaim that the insurance department had overpaid Miller $426,000 during Todd's tenure. Shortly after Sebelius was elected governor in 2002, both sides agreed to dismiss the claims against each other.
But Miller was then brought before the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys over the billing issue.
That board's hearing panel found that Miller routinely billed the Kansas Workers Compensation Fund for expenses that he shouldn't have. The fund was financed by assessments to insurance companies.
The hearing panel's presiding officer, Philip Ridenour, wrote: "The generation of thousands and thousands of time slips and the vague, virtually meaningless descriptions of the work performed made it virtually impossible for the respondent's (Miller's) bills to be audited, thereby ensuring the continued success of his dubious billing practices."
The state's high court agreed.
"He clearly used his extensive inside knowledge of the fund's handling of attorney fee billing to develop and implement a plan for the systematic fleecing of the fund for unearned and unreasonable attorney fees," the court said.
Messages left for Miller and his attorney, Nancy Roe of Kansas City, Kan., were not returned, but court documents said that Miller agreed that he charged the insurance department unreasonable fees and "disguised overhead expenses as compensable items."
But instead of suspending Miller's license, the disciplinary board had recommended that he be placed on probation to practice law.
But the Supreme Court disagreed, going with the tougher punishment for what it described as "egregious conduct."
The court said Miller's two-year license suspension was appropriate "although the imposition of a more severe discipline could be justified." He also was ordered to pay attorney's fees in the case.
There was no indication in the court opinion as to whether further actions would be taken against Miller.
Miller has served as chairman of the GOP of Douglas County. His term ended in 2004.