Topeka Two news organizations are trying to intervene in Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's dispute with two abortion clinics over their patient records, hoping to persuade a judge to open district court proceedings to the public.
Kline's efforts to gain access to clinic records remained stalled Tuesday as Shawnee County District Judge Richard Anderson considered whether to open future hearings. The Associated Press and Kansas Press Assn., which represents newspapers across the state, want him to do so.
Anderson said during a hearing Friday that he would rule soon after Monday's deadline for parties to submit written arguments. Opposing Kline are clinics operated in Wichita by Dr. George Tiller and in Overland Park by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.
Although the dispute between Kline and the clinics has generated national attention and a Kansas Supreme Court ruling, Anderson still is presiding over what state law calls an inquisition, in which a prosecutor can compel people to answer questions or produce records.
Both Kline's office and an attorney for the clinics declined to release the arguments they'd filed, in keeping with a gag order Anderson filed earlier in the case. Both argued Friday that proceedings should remain closed, which is typical for inquisitions.
But Mike Merriam, a Topeka attorney representing the news organizations, wrote in arguments he filed that the Supreme Court's ruling in February "exploded" the notion of keeping proceedings secret.
"While secrecy seems to be the byword of this case, there is in fact nothing in the inquisition statutes that mandates such secrecy, or indeed even mentions it," Merriam wrote. "There is no law requiring criminal investigations in general to be secret."
Kline has said he needs information from patient abortion records to investigate potential child rapes and whether the clinics have violated the abortion laws. In September 2004, Anderson subpoenaed 90 records at Kline's request, and the clinics asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to Anderson, directing him to be more stringent about protecting patients' privacy but leaving open the possibility that Kline would get at least some information.
"This is a criminal investigation," Assistant Atty. Gen. Stephen Maxwell told Anderson on Friday. "It's not a public proceeding."
Clinic attorneys argued that secrecy would protect patients' privacy.
"We think the press should not be present," said Lee Thompson, a Wichita attorney representing Tiller's clinic.