Kansas City, Kan. — Eight staff members fired by Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline the day he took office remain on the payroll but are not working, a federal judge was told Monday.
The eight - seven assistant prosecutors and one investigator - sued Kline on Jan. 16, claiming he lacked authority to fire them or to refuse to participate in a county grievance hearing over their removal.
Before the case was moved to federal court, a Johnson County judge issued a temporary restraining order putting the firings on hold.
Attorney Reid Holbrook, representing Kline, told U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil on Monday that the lower court's order would cost nearly $500,000 if it remained in place for a year while the case drags on.
Vratil took the matter under advisement and said she would issue a ruling by next week. The lower court's order will stand in the meantime, she said.
Kline, a Republican, took office Jan. 8 as the appointed successor to Democrat Paul Morrison, who had two years left on his term when he ousted Kline from the Kansas attorney general's office in November's elections.
Some members of Morrison's Johnson County staff followed him to his new post in Topeka, and Kline brought in members of his own team to replace the employees he fired from the district attorney's staff.
Holbrook argued Monday that under the order continuing the salaries of the fired employees, Kline essentially is being assessed damages before the lawsuit has been heard.
"I assume that the plaintiffs are still working, though," Vratil replied.
"They are not," Holbrook said.
"Is that because they are not being allowed to?" Vratil asked.
Holbrook said Kline chose to staff his office with people in whom he has confidence. Kline - who did not attend Monday's hearing - was within his right to do that, Holbrook said.
The plaintiffs want Vratil to order Kline to participate in a county grievance hearing. Such a hearing could be held quickly, their attorney argued Monday, and if the firings were upheld, the salary payments could end then.
Kline has said he isn't bound by county employment laws and cannot be forced to take part in a grievance proceeding because the job of district attorney is a state position.