Topeka Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Friday he was following past practice by hiring a private law firm to defend the state's decision not to give family planning money to abortion providers.
Schmidt issued a statement responding to recent criticism of the decision that said previous attorneys general hired outside lawyers to represent the state in lawsuits over school finance and water issues. Those topics, he said, were resource intensive and warranted outside assistance.
"The attorney general's office has far broader responsibilities than abortion-related litigation," said Schmidt, a Republican in his first term. "This is a situation where prudent case management requires the assistance of outside counsel to supplement the state's resources."
The Wichita firm of Foulston Siefkin will defend Gov. Sam Brownback and the state's top public health official in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood over a state budget provision denying it $334,000 in federal planning money. Republican legislators say the provision was designed to prevent taxpayer-funded abortions.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said that unlike previous attorneys general, Schmidt awarded the contract to Foulston Siefkin without seeking bids from other firms. Hensley said it amounted to a "kickback" to the firm who's partners include Harvey Sorensen, co-chairman of Schmidt's 2010 attorney general campaign.
"What I find disturbing is that the attorney general is awarding a state contract to political cronies on a no-bid basis," Hensley said.
Schmidt's office didn't immediately respond to Hensley's allegations, but said the attorney general would address the issue later Friday.
A spokesman for Schmidt said the firm would charge the state a rate of $115 per hour for paralegal services and $300 per hour for litigation partners.
Schmidt, a Republican and former Senate majority leader, said that he also was adding Kansas Solicitor General Stephen McAllister of Lawrence to the state's legal team to defend new restrictions placed on the licensing of abortion clinics. McAllister, a former dean of the University of Kansas School of Law, has previously represented the state on federal litigation under Democrat and Republican attorneys general.
The lawsuit seeks to block the implementation of the new abortion law, which places additional requirements on the clinics, such as equipment, procedures and size of their facilities.
The lawsuit was filed by Dr. Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Dr. Traci Nauser, who perform abortions and provide other services at the Center for Women's Health in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb. A second clinic, Aid for Women in Kansas City, has joined the lawsuit. Neither has received an abortion license under the new regulations.
Planned Parenthood has been licensed to perform abortions at its Overland Park clinic and is not a plaintiff in that lawsuit.
"The elected representatives of Kansas citizens have enacted these new laws through the democratic process," Schmidt said. "Those who oppose them should work through the Legislature to modify or repeal them, not march to the courthouse with a small army of out-of-state lawyers."
He said at least 16 attorneys from nine organizations have notified the courts of their intent to support Planned Parenthood, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.
"We did not seek this legal fight. It came to us. Now the fight has been joined," Schmidt said. "I urge all sides to let this play out as it should, in the courtroom based on the legal merits, not in the headlines based on emotions and politics."
Schmidt was elected in November 2010, defeating incumbent Attorney General Steve Six, a Democrat who was appointed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Six's nomination to federal bench has been stalled in committee since his two Republican home state senators announced they would oppose his confirmation to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. His nomination is also opposed by anti-abortion groups.