Topeka At a time when the state is cutting costs by shutting down welfare offices, including the one in Lawrence, it is spending big bucks on private attorneys in an abortion-related lawsuit.
“If I lived in Lawrence, I’d be really angry,” Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said Wednesday.
Gov. Sam Brownback and his Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. have announced the closure of nine SRS offices, including the one in Lawrence, which is the biggest one by far.
Brownback and Siedlecki have cited the state’s budget problems as the reason for the shutdowns.
But in another area, the state has hired private attorneys to defend itself in a federal lawsuit challenging a state provision, signed into law by Brownback, that has denied Planned Parenthood federal family planning funds.
The firm of Foulston Siefkin LLP has been retained in the case. According to the Kansas attorney general's office, the state's cost for this representation ranges from $115 per hour for para-legal work up to $300 per hour for litigation partners. No bill has been submitted yet in the recent legal challenge.
“As SRS offices are being closed and vital services that people depend on are being decimated in the name of fiscal responsibility, it is appalling to me that Gov. Brownback hires a lucrative law firm to defend his extreme social agenda,” Hensley said.
Brownback’s spokeswoman Sherienne Jones-Sontag said the decision to hire Foulston Siefkin was Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s who is also a Republican.
“It is within the discretion of the attorney general to staff the obligations of that office in the manner judged to be in the best interests of Kansas.
“Gov. Brownback respects the constitutional distinctions between his office and the office of the attorney general and accepts the staffing decisions of the attorney general in this matter,” she said.
The attorney general’s office is responsible for defending state laws, but does hire outside help occasionally, usually for special expertise, as is the case with water litigation, or if there is a conflict of interest. Schmidt’s office did not return a phone call and email asking why the office hired an outside firm in the Planned Parenthood case.
Hensley also noted that the Foulston law firm represents the billionaire Koch brothers, who are the owners of Wichita-based Koch Industries, involved in numerous right-wing causes and are one of Brownback's largest campaign contributors.
The state also faces another federal lawsuit in which abortion clinics have challenged new regulations. The attorney general's office says it expects to hire an outside firm in that case, too.
Brownback supported and signed into law both the new regulations on abortion clinics and diverting $334,000 in federal family planning funds away from Planned Parenthood. Even though the family planning funds cannot be used for abortions, abortion opponents say those funds subsidize abortions. Planned Parenthood has denied that allegation.