Ex-AG Phill Kline faces complaint over investigations of abortion providers

? An ethics complaint filed Tuesday accuses former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline of making false statements and allowing subordinates to mislead other officials while investigating abortion providers.

Kline’s past efforts to prosecute providers, including the late Dr. George Tiller, of Wichita, made him a national figure. But they also entangled him in several lengthy legal battles and helped end his political career.

The complaint was filed with the Board for Discipline of Attorneys by its top administrator and a deputy. But the Kansas 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.

The complaint accuses Kline of violating the state’s code of conduct for attorneys and “breaches of trust” in public office. It also accuses him of making a false statement in a filing with the disciplinary administrator’s office.

Kline did not immediately respond to e-mail messages or return a telephone message left at his office at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where he’s now a visiting assistant professor of law.

Two of Kline’s former subordinates also face ethics complaints related to the investigations of abortion providers. A public hearing in Kline’s case is set for May 26-28.

An anti-abortion Republican, Kline served a single term as attorney general in 2003-07 before losing the office to an abortion rights Democrat. He served as Johnson County district attorney in 2007-09, losing the GOP primary in 2008.

Kline and his supporters have noted repeatedly that four of the Supreme Court’s seven justices were appointed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an abortion rights Democrat who helped recruit the candidate who defeated Kline for attorney general in 2006.

Kline investigated Tiller and Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Overland Park, concluding both had performed illegal abortions. Criminal charges were filed against both.

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 Tiller’s murder in 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.

They include allegations that Kline knew subordinates used flawed or misleading information to further their investigations of abortion providers and that he knew information presented to the Kansas Supreme Court was incorrect.

The complaint alleges statements Kline and subordinates made to the Supreme Court and other officials that they weren’t seeking to learn the names of adults who’d had abortions were false. It noted efforts by the attorney general’s office in 2005 to identify patients of Tiller’s by using the records of a nearby motel where they stayed.

The complaint also includes criticism of how Kline and his subordinates handled edited patient records from both clinics, especially as he moved from the attorney general’s office to the Johnson County district attorney’s office.

It says Kline told the disciplinary administrator’s office in one filing that the records had been “kept under lock and key for the entire time since they have been produced.” The complaint notes that for about two months in 2007, some of the records were stored in a Rubbermaid container in an investigator’s apartment.