A news media attorney said Tuesday that Atty. Gen. Phill Kline intentionally violated the state open meetings law and misrepresented his opinion about the matter during an Internet chat with the Lawrence Journal-World.
"My view was, and is, that the serial meetings conducted by the Board of Education members with Mr. Kline were intentional violations of the Open Meetings Act," said Mike Merriam, who represents the Kansas Press Assn. "Mr. Kline has no basis to cite me in support of his actions."
Kline, through a spokeswoman, promptly offered a public apology.
"The attorney general apologizes to Mr. Merriam, if in fact he did misquote him," said Sherriene Jones, a Kline spokeswoman.
The dispute stemmed from an incident last year.
Under the state open meetings law, meetings with a majority of a quorum of a public board must be public. A quorum on the Kansas State Board of Education is six members, and a majority of that is four.
On Feb. 8, 2005, Kline had two private meetings with three board members each. He and members who attended those meetings said Kline discussed school finance litigation and a proposal to put stickers on science books for public schools that say evolution is a theory and not a fact.
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But several lawmakers and media groups, including the Journal-World, questioned whether the meetings ran afoul of a 1998 legal opinion from the Attorney General's Office.
That opinion stated it is illegal to have a series of meetings that collectively would total a quorum of board members and where a common topic of discussion occurs.
Kline has said he complied with that portion of the law by not conveying discussion from one meeting to the other. A report by the Shawnee County district attorney's office said neither Kline nor the education board members violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
On Monday, during an Internet chat on LJWorld.com, Kline responded to a question about the meetings by saying: "The attorney for the Kansas Press Association stated of these meetings: 'it is remarkable the length the Attorney General will go to comply with the law.' I believe that says it all.'"
On Tuesday, Merriam said he had no recollection of making that statement, and added if he had "then it was either a sarcastic reference to (Kline's) elaborate preparations to avoid the law, or was in connection with some other matter."