Topeka In a move Democrat Paul Morrison calls "desperate and sleazy," Republican Phill Kline's latest television ad in the attorney general's race highlights unproven, 15-year-old sexual harassment allegations against Morrison.
The ad has an actor reading statements attributed to Morrison by a former employee who sued him twice in federal court. Kline, who is seeking a second term, has made her allegations a campaign issue even though both cases were dismissed and Morrison, the Johnson County district attorney, paid no monetary damages to the woman.
Kline began broadcasting the 30-second spot across the state this weekend, less than a week after holding a news conference to publicize the cases.
Kline spokeswoman Sherriene Jones defended the ad Monday as raising an issue voters need to consider before the Nov. 7 election. However, Morrison said, "Phill Kline should be ashamed of himself."
'That's a jaw-dropper'
The attorney general's race already was contentious when Kline began attacking Morrison over the former employee's allegations. The ad is unusual for having an actor portray an opposing candidate, without telling viewers they're hearing a dramatization. The actor does not appear on screen but reads the statements attributed to Morrison in a voice-over.
"As someone who's seen a lot of Kansas political ads, that's a jaw-dropper," said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist. "That's the kind of ad where the people sitting around planning the ad have to pause and say, 'Are we going to run this?'"
The ad also has an unusual ending: "To be continued" appears on screen.
Jones would not comment on whether that meant Kline planned future ads on the same topic.
Suing Morrison was Kelly Summerlin, who worked as the victims-witnesses coordinator in the district attorney's office. She filed the first suit in March 1991, a month after Morrison fired her, and the second one in May 1992. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declined to pursue the case.
Morrison has said repeatedly that he fired Summerlin because he wasn't pleased with her on-the-job performance. On Monday, his staff issued a statement saying three employees left his office because of conflicts with her.
But Summerlin's version of events was far different. In answering questions for attorneys in May 1991, she recalled an after-hours office party in a bar in November 1990. She said Morrison made a drunken sexual advance at her, which she rebuffed.
Kline's ad has Morrison saying: "Don't get me wrong. I love my wife and kids, but I'm very attracted to you. What are we going to do about that?" She also claimed he described himself as a "manly man."
As for voters, Jones said, "They need to be aware of this behavior and consider that when they're voting for the next attorney general."
Morrison acknowledged in a sworn statement in January 1992 only that he had told Summerlin she looked attractive. He wrote that he realized she took the comment the wrong way and he apologized the next day for the comment and "any misinterpretation she may have made."
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"Phill Kline's latest attack is desperate and sleazy," Morrison said Monday, speaking for himself and his wife. "We don't know when Phill Kline abandoned any pretense of a moral compass, but the pursuit of power appears to have corrupted Phill Kline in a deeply disturbing way."
The first case went to trial in July 1992, and a judge dismissed it after four days of testimony, before hearing Morrison's evidence.
The second case also accused Morrison of harassment, as well as retaliation and spreading false information about Summerlin.
Morrison sought to have the second case dismissed before it went to trial, but a judge ruled against him. The ad says the judge concluded, "There was sufficient evidence to continue."
The judge wrote in his August 1992 order: "Questions of fact exist such that a reasonable person could find in favor of either party."
But six months later, the parties agreed to dismiss the case. Their two-paragraph agreement says only that each party would cover its own legal costs.
Kline and his staff have described it as a settlement, but attorneys for Summerlin told The Wichita Eagle last week that they don't recall it as a settlement.
Kline's ad doesn't mention the ultimate outcome of either case, nor when they were filed, or the fact that Morrison didn't pay any damages.