TOPEKA Five days before holding a news conference to tout unproven 15-year-old sexual harassment claims against his opponent, Atty. Gen. Phill Kline told a newspaper's editorial board he didn't intend to make them an issue or use them in ads.
Kline, a Republican seeking a second term, has for two weeks made the claims a key part of his campaign against Democrat Paul Morrison, the Johnson County district attorney. The claims came from two federal lawsuits filed against Morrison by a former employee, but both cases were dismissed and Morrison paid no damages.
Last weekend, Kline's campaign began airing a television ad about the allegations, and he and his aides have said they're raising a "serious issue" about Morrison's character. Morrison has called Kline's actions "desperate and sleazy" and "bottom-feeder politics."
Morrison's accuser, Kelly Summerlin, issued a two-page statement Friday through her attorney, contesting what Morrison has said about the issue.
She also suggested Morrison invaded her privacy when she and her husband sought to adopt a child after she was fired. Morrison called that statement false.
He expressed anger Friday that her allegations continue to receive attention because of the way the lawsuits turned out and how long ago the allegations were made.
"I'm not going to get in the gutter any more with Phill Kline," he said.
Kline spokeswoman Sherriene Jones said the Republican began raising the allegations as an issue after hearing Morrison make what she called misleading statements about them and Summerlin.
"It speaks to his character, and Kansas voters should assess this and read Kelly Summerlin's words carefully," Jones said. "We believe her, and we think Kansans will believe her, too."
No response yet
Morrison hasn't yet aired an ad responding to Kline's. Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist, said that without polling, it's hard to tell whether Kline's ad is effective. If it is, he said, Morrison must respond or risk losing.
"The fact there hasn't been a response yet by Morrison means the whole thing has frozen them, or it means they believe they have a lead and they're holding it," Beatty said.
'I'm not. I'm not'
Kline alluded to the allegations during an Oct. 10 debate in Wichita, then discussed them the next day with The Wichita Eagle's editorial board. In a video posted on The Eagle's Web site, Kline provided some details and encouraged the editorial board to review court records. An aide provided the case number for one of the lawsuits.
When a board member asked Kline whether he planned to make the allegations an issue, he said, "I'm not. I'm not."
The board member asked, "So there's not some commercial?"
Kline answered: "No."
At a news conference in Topeka on Oct. 16, Kline and Ron Freeman, the GOP's state executive director, discussed the allegations against Morrison. Morrison's wife, Joyce, attended and denounced Kline's actions.
Within a week, Kline began airing his television ad. His campaign also arranged interviews with Morrison's accuser this week for selected news organizations.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority, a group of GOP moderates, have called on Kline to withdraw the ad, but he has refused.
Race for Attorney General
- Wichita Eagle video showing Kline's refusal to use a sex case against his opponent
- Kelly Summerlin statement on her allegations against Paul Morrison (.doc)
- Morrison's accuser says she received no money (10-26-06)
- Questions and answers from Kline following Tuesday's AG debate (10-25-06)
- New Kline ad called a 'jaw dropper' (10-24-06)
- Full coverage of the Attorney General race
- Transcript of chat with Attorney General Phill Kline (10-09-06)
- Candidate: Phill Kline (Republican)
- Candidate: Paul Morrison (Democrat)
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The basis for Summerlin's allegations was a November 1990 incident at an after-hours office party at an Olathe bar.
Summerlin worked for Morrison as the victims coordinator in the district attorney's office until February 1991. She filed her first federal lawsuit a month later and the second one in 1992. She also made a complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Summerlin said Morrison reduced her responsibilities and then fired her because she rebuffed his drunken advance.
But, the EEOC noted in January 1992, Summerlin had no witnesses to corroborate her version of events. That same month, Morrison signed a sworn statement acknowledging only that he had told her that she looked attractive, had realized she took the comment the wrong way, and had apologized the next day for any misunderstanding.
Morrison also has said he fired Summerlin because he was displeased with her job performance and that several employees left the district attorney's office because of her.
The EEOC concluded there wasn't sufficient evidence that Summerlin had been subjected to comments of a sexual nature.
A judge dismissed the first lawsuit in July 1992. In February 1993, Morrison and Summerlin agreed to dismiss the second lawsuit. In interviews this week, Summerlin confirmed that she didn't receive money or anything of value.
She said in her statement Friday that she dropped the second lawsuit because she wanted to go to nursing school, and "I needed to go forward."
After her firing, Summerlin said she and her husband were in the process of adopting their first child. She said in her statement Friday that she learned then that Morrison had spoken with one of the child's grandparents, and she "felt violated again." Morrison said the statement wasn't true.
'America's Most Wanted'
In a related development, the executive producer of "America's Most Wanted" discussed the decision of John Walsh, the television show's host, to ask Morrison to withdraw a radio ad featuring his endorsement.
Kline's campaign said Walsh didn't like his remarks being used in a race against Kline, while Morrison said it had nothing to do with that.
Executive Producer Lance Heflin said that after the ad began airing, Walsh learned of Kline's positions on criminal justice issues. Walsh wanted the ad pulled because "both men are good candidates," Heflin said.
"John Walsh has decided that the race for attorney general in Kansas should be decided without his support of either candidate," he said.