Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback and Kansas legislative leaders expect to consider a proposed settlement today of a lawsuit against former Attorney General Phill Kline that was filed by a woman who claimed he fired her from a county prosecutor’s office for complaining about sex discrimination.
The governor and the Legislature’s eight top leaders were set to meet as the State Finance Council, which must approve settlements of lawsuits against state employees. The claims against Kline arise from his actions as Johnson County district attorney in 2007, but he still was considered a state official.
The Finance Council’s agenda said it would consider a request from current Attorney General Derek Schmidt for approval of a settlement in the case but provided no further details. Schmidt’s office declined to comment Tuesday.
Reid Holbrook, an attorney for Kline, and Joe Colantuono, an attorney representing Kline’s accuser, Jacqie Spradling, declined to discuss details of the proposed settlement, citing confidentiality requirements. But Holbrook said the settlement would end not only the lawsuit but also a separate claim before a federal administrative judge in Washington.
“A meeting of the minds has been reached,” he said.
The lawsuit against Kline had been scheduled to go to trial in October in Johnson County District Court, but the presiding judge delayed the trial until January so that attorneys could finish working on a settlement. The federal claim also has been on hold.
Kline, a Republican who gained national attention as attorney general for investigating abortion providers, became district attorney in January 2007, two months losing re-election as attorney general. In April 2007, Kline dismissed Spradling, a senior prosecutor, who’d worked in the district attorney’s office for 15 years.
He contends Spradling was fired over issues such as insubordination, failure to follow office policy and a negative attitude. She alleged Kline and a former top deputy, Stephen Maxwell, tolerated incompetence in male attorneys but singled out female attorneys for “unwarranted criticism,” and Kline fired her in retaliation for complaining about it.
The county also had been a defendant in the lawsuit, but it agreed in October to pay $7,500 to help settle the case, leaving Kline, Maxwell and the state as defendants. The state is the only defendant in the case before the federal administrative judge.
Spradling had become leader of the office’s domestic violence unit under District Attorney Paul Morrison, who defeated Kline in the 2006 attorney general’s race. Morrison had switched parties to run against Kline as a Democrat, allowing GOP officials in Johnson County to fill the vacancy in the DA’s office — and they picked Kline.
Kline left the district attorney’s office in January 2009, having lost a Republican primary in August 2008. He’s now a visiting assistant professor of law at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the late evangelist and Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Spradling is deputy district attorney and leads the staff of prosecutors in Shawnee County, under District Attorney Chad Taylor, a Democrat. Maxwell is senior assistant district attorney in Reno County.
Morrison was forced to resign as attorney general in January 2008 because of a sex scandal, and Schmidt, a Republican, defeated Morrison’s appointed replacement last year.
Brownback and six of the legislative leaders on the Finance Council are Republicans. Approval of the settlement requires Brownback’s support, as well as five of the eight lawmakers.