Topeka — The state Supreme Court took a first step Friday toward taking away former Attorney General Phill Kline’s law license but didn’t halt his prosecution of a suburban Kansas City abortion clinic.
And Kline, now Johnson County district attorney, said: “I am very pleased the prosecution can go forward.”
The Supreme Court ruled in a dispute over Kline’s possession of medical records from patients at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park. Kline, an anti-abortion Republican, obtained edited copies of the records as attorney general in 2003-07 but didn’t file charges against the clinic until after leaving the state job and becoming Johnson County’s prosecutor.
The Supreme Court ordered Kline, as DA, to turn over a “full and complete and understandable” set of his materials to the attorney general’s office, now held by Democrat Steve Six. But the court is allowing Kline to keep evidence he gathered against the clinic, which cheered some fellow abortion opponents.
A 5-2 majority described the court’s order to Kline as a sanction and said it was sending its ruling to the state official who handles disciplinary cases against attorneys. It said Kline’s conduct in handling the records and dealing with the Supreme Court may warrant punishment “up to and including disbarment” — a decision the court ultimately would make.
“Kline exhibits little, if any, respect for the authority of this court or for his responsibility to it and to the rule of law it husbands,” Justice Carol Beier wrote for the majority. “His attitude and behavior are inexcusable, particularly for someone who purports to be a professional prosecutor.”
Kline made only a brief statement and didn’t take questions about the case during a news conference in his Olathe office. His attorney, Caleb Stegall, of Perry, said Kline prevailed “on the substantive legal issues.”
His investigation of the Planned Parenthood clinic brought him national attention while he was attorney general. He continued his investigation after he lost his bid for re-election in 2006 and was appointed by fellow Republicans as Johnson County district attorney.
Before he gave up the state job, he transferred copies of the medical records to Johnson County. Then, in October 2007, as county prosecutor, he filed 107 charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic, including 23 felonies, alleging it falsified documents and performed illegal late-term abortions. The medical records are key evidence.
The case is pending, but Kline is leaving the county office in January because he lost the Republican primary in August. His successor as DA, Steve Howe, another Republican, declined to discuss about how he would handle the prosecution.
The clinic not only denied Kline’s allegations repeatedly but challenged his right to keep any copies of its medical records. It asked the Supreme Court to intervene even before Kline filed charges and sought to have Kline cited for contempt. Six’s office sided with the clinic.
Six issued only a short statement: “The opinion documents a sad chapter in the otherwise great history of the Kansas attorney general’s office.”