Topeka Attorneys for former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline maintain in a filing released Thursday that he didn’t commit ethical misconduct in his investigation of abortion providers.
The filing was in response to an ethics complaint against Kline filed in January by the Board for Discipline of Attorneys. He’s accused of making false statements and allowing subordinates to mislead the Kansas Supreme Court and other officials during an investigation of the late Dr. George Tiller and Planned Parenthood’s Overland Park clinic.
Kline’s attorney, Todd Graves, wrote in the response that the charges against Kline would have a chilling effect on his free speech rights if he’s sanctioned by the Kansas Supreme Court. He cited statements Kline made during his campaign for attorney general that he would enforce Kansas’ abortion laws if elected.
“Action thereon in this proceeding would constitute a deprivation of the respondent’s rights, privileges and or immunities secured by the Constitution, under color of law,” Graves wrote.
The state Supreme Court — which previously criticized Kline and sought a review of his conduct — would make the final decision on any sanctions, such as censure or the loss of his law license.
Kline’s attorneys have said they expected the ethics complaint against him and have called it politically motivated.
An anti-abortion Republican, Kline served as attorney general in 2003-07, then was Johnson County district attorney in 2007-09. He is now a visiting assistant professor of law at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Kline’s hearing has been delayed until Nov. 15 at his attorneys’ request. The attorney discipline board has filed complaints against Eric Rucker and Stephen D. Maxwell, two Kline assistants who worked on the abortion prosecution. Rucker’s hearing is set for May 11, while Maxwell’s has been indefinitely delayed.
Kline replaced attorneys from Ohio with Graves, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney and former U.S. attorney for Missouri who was removed from office in 2006 during President George W. Bush’s administration.
Graves said in his filing that the complaint against Kline was unclear which of his actions meet the criteria necessary to prove misconduct. The response outlines the steps Kline took as attorney general, then as Johnson County district attorney, to investigate the clinics, gather necessary records and file charges.
Graves said much of the complaint against Kline relies on documents that he either never had or no longer has, which hinders Kline’s ability to mount a full defense.
Tiller was prosecuted by the attorney general’s office after Kline left, and a jury acquitted the doctor on all charges, less than three months before his murder last May. The case Kline filed as Johnson County prosecutor against the Planned Parenthood clinic is pending, tied up by legal issues before the Supreme Court.
In December 2008, while ruling on some of those issues, a Supreme Court majority strongly criticized Kline’s conduct, saying he “exhibits little, if any, respect” for the court or rule of law. The 5-2 majority didn’t sanction Kline then but forwarded its opinion to the disciplinary administrator.
Most of the allegations in the complaint already have been raised in other forums, including Tiller’s criminal case and litigation before the Supreme Court.