TOPEKA - Former Attorney General Phill Kline told the Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday that he never lied or intentionally misled authorities as he conducted an extensive investigation of abortion providers during his term in office.
The seven-member court heard 90 minutes of arguments from Kline and from attorneys representing the Board of Discipline of Attorneys who recommend that Kline’s license to practice law be suspended indefinitely. The disciplinary panel contends Kline repeatedly misled or allowed subordinates to mislead others, including a Kansas City-area grand jury, to further his investigations.
“This kind of misconduct would have been prosecuted no matter who the prosecutor was,” said Stan Hazlett, the disciplinary administrator.
But Kline’s attorney Tom Condit, an Ohio attorney who has represented numerous clients in abortion-related cases in the past 20 years, suggested that the complaint Kline faced wasn’t about how he practiced law but who his investigation was targeting.
“I always smile when I hear judges, prosecutors and attorneys saying about a case, ‘This isn’t about abortion’,” Condit said. “Let me tell you, folks, it’s always about abortion.”
The case was heard by two Supreme Court justices and five lower court judge. Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and four others recused themselves from the hearing because it was their decision in a previous case involving Kline that led to the filing of his ethics complaint.
Kline was Kansas attorney general from 2003 to 2007 and Johnson County district attorney in 2007 and 2008. He is now a visiting professor at Liberty University in Virginia.
Following the hearing, Kline became emotional as he discussed his lifelong interest in the law and service. He said he was confident in the support of his family and faith and that the truth would exonerate him.
“The law is designed and its purpose is to protect the weakest and most vulnerable. Those are the ones who need it. It’s what I’ve learned,” Kline said. “Absolutely, it would affect me deeply if I’m not able to do so.”
He and Condit declined to say specifically that Kline’s charges were politically motivated by those opposed to his stance on abortion.
As district attorney in 2007, Kline filed 107 criminal charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic, accusing it of performing illegal abortions and falsifying records. The last of those charges were dropped in August.
As attorney general, Kline pursued misdemeanor criminal charges against Dr. George Tiller over late-term abortions performed by his Wichita clinic. The case was dismissed for jurisdictional reasons.
Kline’s successor as attorney general, a Democrat who supports abortion rights, filed other misdemeanor charges against the doctor. Tiller was acquitted in March 2009, two months before being shot to death by man a professing strong anti-abortion views.
Kline began the investigations of both providers just months into his single four-year term as attorney general. The clinics resisted his attempts to get information from patients’ medical records, but eventually, the courts allowed him access to edited documents.
The disciplinary panel concluded that efforts by Kline and his aides to mislead other officials began early in the investigations. The panel also said Kline violated rules of professional conduct by appearing on Fox television’s “The O’Reilly Factor” just before the November 2006 election to discuss his investigation of Tiller.
Kline argued that it is a common practice of prosecutors and law enforcement not to disclose the targets of investigations — in this situation potential child sexual abusers — while seeking information.
Kline denied that he intentionally lied or misled others in pursuit of his case. He and Condit countered that Hazlett and others built their case by taking snippets of statements over the course of six years out of context to make their allegations.
“There’s absolutely no motive,” he said.
However, Hazlett said the 14,000 pages in the court record spanning six years showed how Kline and his associates misled state agencies and the judicial system in their pursuit of charges against abortion providers. He said he could divide the case in to numerous parts and the conclusion would be the same.
“It would be fair to say that the findings as to misconduct would merit disbarment,” Hazlett said.