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Archive for Monday, July 25, 2011

Phill Kline case rehashes old abortion debates

July 25, 2011

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— Hearings on an ethics complaint against former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline rehashed past incidents from the state’s abortion debates, and those incidents sometimes felt as distant as the mock battles staged by Civil War re-enactors.

This past is hardly so distant, of course. The complaint against Kline before a three-member panel of the state Board for the Discipline of Attorneys stems from actions by him and his subordinates when he was attorney general from 2003 to 2007 and Johnson County district attorney in 2007 and 2008.

But the state’s altered political context makes the history seem ancient. Kline is no longer in the anti-abortion vanguard, not even in Kansas, thanks to last year’s election of Gov. Sam Brownback, a fellow anti-abortion Republican.

Abortion providers and abortion rights advocates seem far less powerful politically, with a string of lopsided legislative losses on policy and new regulations for providers that briefly held the possibility of making Kansas the only state without an abortion clinic. The state is embroiled in legal disputes over policies enacted this year.

And Kline’s case?

“Here we are, again, for days on things that should have been disposed of long before this,” he told reporters during one break in the hearings.

About the case

The complaint, filed by the attorney disciplinary administrator, accuses Kline and his subordinates of mishandling abortion patients’ medical records and misleading other public officials to further their investigations of abortion providers. The panel wrapped up its hearings Friday and will recommend to the Kansas Supreme Court what sanctions, if any, Kline should face. The panel’s decision isn’t expected for at least several weeks.

Kline strongly disputes the allegations, describes the complaint as politically motivated and doesn’t trust the disciplinary process. The Supreme Court already has criticized him in past decisions in abortion cases, and four of its even justices were appointed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The court could strip Kline of his license to practice law in Kansas, but it’s no longer active. He was voted out of both the attorney general’s and district attorney’s offices and is now a visiting assistant law professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., founded by evangelist Jerry Falwell.

Timeline

Questions and allegations about Kline’s conduct go back to 2003 and his first months in office as attorney general, when he launched investigations of abortion providers, including a clinic operated by Planned Parenthood in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park.

The abortion rights Democrats who succeeded Kline after he lost the attorney general’s job have themselves left office, and Sebelius became U.S. health and human services secretary in 2009.

Kline continued his investigation of the Planned Parenthood clinic as Johnson County district attorney and filed 107 criminal charges against it in October 2007. That case, delayed by legal disputes over patient records and Kline’s conduct, has a preliminary hearing set for Oct. 24-26 in Johnson County District Court to determine whether it will go to trial.

Even as Kline filed his charges in 2007, anti-abortion groups were pushing successfully, through petitions, to force Johnson County to convene a grand jury to investigate the Planned Parenthood clinic. The grand jury disbanded in 2008 without issuing any indictments, and its interactions with Kline and his staff were the focus of the last part of Kline’s ethics hearing.

Details

The presiding grand juror, Stephanie Hensel, testified that Kline and his staff misled the group about what Kansas law required of Planned Parenthood when it came to reporting cases of possible sexual abuse of children — leading jurors to issue a subpoena for records. The grand jury retained its own attorneys, not wanting to rely exclusively on Kline and his staff for legal guidance.

Abortion opponents have made much of negotiations involving Hensel, the grand jury’s attorneys and Planned Parenthood over documents after the subpoena was issued but never enforced. The negotiators even contemplated a deal that would have restricted the district attorney’s office, though the severity of the limits was disputed.

But why do such details matter now?

They don’t answer the specific question of whether Kline and his staff misled the grand jury. The Planned Parenthood clinic still faces criminal prosecution, and if anti-abortion groups want other matters investigated, they can, under Kansas law, force Johnson County to convene another grand jury.

Yet Kline is defending his reputation as he defends his law license. Opponents have used his name as a code-phrase for political extremism on the right, and he took time during his testimony to counter their presumption that going after abortion providers was an obsession.

John Hanna has covered Kansas government and politics since 1987 and has written extensively about abortion.

Comments

kansanjayhawk 3 years, 2 months ago

This was a good man who stood up on principle opposing the killing of the unborn by using the law and working within the system. Kline should be applauded for his convictions and for being willing to even give up his political life for something larger than himself! He is a great example of a true statesman!

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thatonedude 3 years, 2 months ago

Kline's in trouble because he DIDN'T work inside the system. He attempted at every turn to manipulate it.

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Kyle Chandler 3 years, 2 months ago

If this guy was such a 'good man' then i guess Hitlers Master Plan was 'romantic'.

Probably the worst thing to come out of Kansas......right next to the Phelps.

And he was involved with so many corrupt deals with Paul Morrison (even in Joco where they were both DA's) that i believe he actually hurt THOUSANDS of people with his hidden agendas and power tripping.

He should be in prison for the things he's gotten away with, i cant believe anyone would want to support such a monster. TAKE A HIKE OUT OF MY STATE KLINE, and take all these other trolls that buy into your BS with you. You can all use the 'socialist' highway system to Missouri. Good day

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Orwell 3 years, 2 months ago

One doing what the law permits; the other, charged with enforcing the law, violating the law for personal advancement. Must be the same, huh?

Ah, yes… the old false equivalency. Because blaming both sides is so much easier than thinking.

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Jimo 3 years, 2 months ago

The tragedy that is Phill Kline. If Kline had but been patient until electoral fortunes had turned, he could have lived his dream of having his finger in every vagina in Kansas. Instead, he is a chump loser with only a faint dream of maybe become a legal secretary in the Koch Industries corporate offices as a payoff for his loyalty.

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SDTPlant 3 years, 2 months ago

Kansanjayhawk,

You say Phill Kline was a good man? What a farce! Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered by Scott Roeder in church., was a good man. Phill Kline has an agenda that should have had no place in his job at the top of the legal food chain. He should have used his "principles" to work to enforce Roe v. Wade. Take his law license and let him join Rita Cline and the Phelp's cult on the street.

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kansanjayhawk 3 years, 2 months ago

Dr. George Tiller killed thousands of unborn children in the womb many of them viable babies in the seventh, eighth, and ninth month of pregnancy--how in the world can you call him a good man? Tiller was very evil and has the blood of these children on his hands he has gone on to meet his maker. Remember this--most of us who are pro-life--did not support Tiller being killed we believe in working within the system to end this violence and injustice! However, to call Tiller a good man and Kline evil is to get your morality reversed it is calling right wrong and wrong right! We will not stop defending the unborn until they are once againg protected by the law from these acts of violence!

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kansanjayhawk 3 years, 2 months ago

all of us have a mother who was a pro-birther!~

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