Olathe — Johnson County will not conduct grievance hearings for eight employees fired by new District Attorney Phill Kline because Kline will not participate in the hearings.
Kline told county commissioners Friday that he would not participate in the hearings for seven former prosecutors and a chief investigator.
Kline, who notified the commissioners in a letter, declined to comment Friday. But in the letter, he said a state statute gives him the authority to hire and fire and set compensation.
"It is my opinion and the opinion of my legal staff that, although I am not required to do so, I have complied with the county's policy regarding personnel," the letter states.
In addition, he said he thinks the county's policies give him the authority to terminate any employee at any time for any reason.
The eight employees were dismissed last Monday, the day Kline was sworn in as district attorney. They filed grievances Wednesday, asking for reinstatement and back pay.
Don Jarrett, the county's chief counsel, said what happens next is up to the eight former employees. Joe Colantuono, an attorney for the employees, said the most obvious option would be to file a lawsuit.
The county was prepared to hold hearings. However, before proceeding, commissioners Thursday asked Kline if he would comply with the county's policies as interpreted by county staff, participate in an appeal hearing and abide by the results of that hearing. The commissioners gave Kline until noon Friday to give them an answer.
Jarrett said all county officials must follow county policies. But the district attorney's office is distinct, he said. Kansas law makes a district attorney an official of the state.
Johnson County always has asked its district attorneys to comply with county policies, and in the past they have, Jarrett said.
When asked if Kline has the legal authority to opt out of the county's policies, Jarrett said: "I'm not going to get into the legal issues. Those things can be debated." Kline's position is that the statute entitles him to opt out, Jarrett said.
Colantuono, who represents the fired employees, said his clients have not decided whom they would sue if they file suit. Any lawsuit would request reinstatement, back pay and other damages that might be available, he said.