Court sets April 8 to hear arguments in Tiller case

? The Kansas Supreme Court said Friday it will hear arguments April 8 in three cases challenging subpoenas from a Sedgwick County grand jury for patient records from Dr. George Tiller’s Wichita abortion clinic.

In its announcement, the court also kept its earlier order blocking enforcement of the subpoenas and ordered the two judges handling the grand jury proceeding to not issue additional subpoenas for patient records.

It’s rare for the court to have a special session for a single case. The last time that happened was when it considered school finance legislation in 2006. Normally, the court considers cases on regularly scheduled hearing dates.

The court consolidated the challenges by Attorney General Stephen Six, Tiller’s clinic and attorneys representing clinic patients, since they made similar arguments and are seeking to have the subpoenas quashed by the justices.

Chief Justice Kay McFarland gave no indication in the order setting the hearing when the court might rule.

“We are very pleased that the highest court of the state views the privacy rights of women patients so protectively as to undertake a careful examination of the important issues involved,” said Dan Monnat, one of the attorneys representing the clinic.

Likewise, Bonnie Scott Jones, Center for Reproductive Rights attorney representing two patients – identified only as Jane Doe and Ann Roe – said she was glad the court is going to hear the cases so soon.

“It seems to me they are trying to address this matter promptly and that is appropriate,” she said. “These patients, many have obtained abortions in tragic circumstances so they are devastated they may have to relive these intimate times in the company of the grand jury.”

Kansans for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, on Monday asked the court for permission to file a friend of the court brief. But the justices by Friday hadn’t given permission to do that.

“As long as it has gone this far, this will give our side a chance to display in open court the arrogance of this late-term abortionist’s thinking that he is above the law,” said Mary Kay Culp, the group’s executive director.

Culp said she’s concerned the grand jury’s 90-day life will expire the same day as the court hearing. But the grand jury can be extended by the judges overseeing it. Abortion opponents forced Sedgwick County to convene the grand jury by submitting petitions. Kansas is one of six states that permits citizens to petition to create a grand jury.

Abortion opponents accuse Tiller of violating a 1998 law restricting late-term abortion. His attorneys repeatedly have said such allegations are unfounded.

The grand jury subpoenaed the medical files of about 2,000 women, including some who decided against having abortions. It also subpoenaed information about current and former employees and referring physicians.

It’s seeking all health care records of patients who aborted a fetus determined to be 22 weeks or older from July 1, 2003, through Jan. 18 at Tiller’s clinic, Women’s Health Care Services.