Archive for Friday, November 16, 2012

Court staffer suspended over Kline tweets

November 16, 2012


— A research attorney for a Kansas Court of Appeals judge was temporarily suspended from her job Friday pending an investigation about tweets she posted during a hearing in former Attorney General Phill Kline’s ethics case.

Sarah Peterson Herr works for Judge Christel Marquardt. She’s on suspension while an internal investigation is conducted, judicial branch spokesman Ron Keefover said.

The tweets were posted Thursday during a Kansas Supreme Court hearing deciding whether Kline’s law license should be indefinitely suspended for his conduct during investigations of abortion providers. The comments appeared around 10 a.m. Thursday when Kline was standing before the seven-member court answering questions related to his conduct while attorney general and Johnson County district attorney.

One tweet used offensive language to comment about Kline’s facial expression. Another predicted that Kline would be disbarred by the court for seven years for his conduct.

Herr issued a statement to The Associated Press apologizing for how the public may perceive the judicial system based on her comments. She said that in her duties she had nothing to do with the Kline case nor has she discussed the case with those who do in the judicial branch.

“I didn’t stop to think that in addition to communicating with a few of my friends on Twitter I was also communicating with the public at large, which was not appropriate for someone who works for the court system,” Herr said. “I apologize that because the comments were made on Twitter — and thus public — that they were perceived as a reflection on the Kansas courts.”

The tweets were blocked and removed from Herr’s Twitter account Friday morning.

“I don’t know of any impact on the judges and justices who sat on the case. I think it’s a matter unrelated to the case,” Keefover said of the tweeting incident.

Attorney Tom Condit, who’s representing Kline in the ethics case, said he was calling for a full independent investigation of all appellate court and Supreme Court research attorneys and clerks to determine the extent of what he feels is bias against Kline among the judicial staff. He didn’t specify who should do the investigation but said it needs to be an entity outside the judicial branch.

“Obviously, the fact that it is a clerk for the appellate court sitting in the same building as the Supreme Court is really demeaning to the entire appellate court system,” Condit said. “It’s the kind of thing that’s really going to impair people’s confidence in the fairness and objectivity of the judicial system.”

Five of the seven justices of the Kansas Supreme Court recused themselves from Kline’s ethics hearing because they had been involved in previous court opinions that were at the center of his case. Replacement judges were taken from district courts and the Court of Appeals, but Marquardt, who plans to retire in January, did not hear Thursday’s case.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said the tweets are “indicative of an attitude that’s pervasive” in the judicial branch — one of bias against Kline, an abortion opponent — and that concerns her.

Keefover said signs were posted in the judicial building in Topeka indicating that cellphones and other electronic devices were not to be used in the Supreme Court chambers. The hearing was broadcast live over the Internet.

The court staff was bound by the same rules as judges and Supreme Court justices about commenting on pending cases, he said. It was not clear if Herr used a state computer to post the comments or her personal devices, Keefover said.


purplesage 4 years ago

Aha! Is it any surprise that this sort of impropriety is alleged? This whole thing is a witch hunt from the get go because Phill Kline is a tireless anti-abortion crusader. This just pulls back the curtains and show the reality of what is going on.

Cait McKnelly 4 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Cait McKnelly 4 years ago

OK OK I removed it, Alex. Mea culpa.

Pepe 4 years ago

I don't like Kline at all, but it sounds like this girl deserved to get suspended. A clerk for an appellate court should not publicly comment (via twitter or otherwise) about another pending case. She should have used better judgment.

Cait McKnelly 4 years ago

Now THIS I can get behind and agree with.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

I agree. If she really did tweet on this, she should lose her job. She's part of the process, and even Kline deserves having those taking part in the proceedings keeping their traps shut at least until the thing has been concluded.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Sorry, NavyVet, but when I made this comment, I thought she worked for one of the judges on the panel. ebyrdstarr has corrected my misapprehension, so I now believe she was quite within her rights, and not in violation of her work responsibilities in commenting on an event that's open to public scrutiny and comment.

Jean Robart 4 years ago

She was still an idiot for saying she didn't know people other than the ones to whom she sent the tweets would see them. My goodness--any 16 year old knows that.

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

Twitter, Facebook and anonymous forums such as this.

ebyrdstarr 4 years ago

Just fyi, the Kansas Supreme Court does have cameras and the live video feed of arguments is available over the internet at their website,

Then about a week after arguments, the recording is archived on the website and available for viewing.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

If she works for one of the judges, she shouldn't be making any sort of public remarks, especially before a ruling has been made.

ebyrdstarr 4 years ago

She didn't tweet public information; she tweeted her personal opinions.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Would it be OK if the judge she works for were to do the same thing? If not, where should the line be drawn when it comes to court personnel commenting on the business before them?

ebyrdstarr 4 years ago

It would most definitely not be ok if any judge commented on this, whether that judge was sitting on the court for this hearing or not. (To be clear, her judge is not involved in Kline's disciplinary case.) A judge must always avoid doing anything that could prejudice a case or even has the appearance of impropriety. Generally, that applies to the judge's staff as well. If there is a line to be drawn, it is clear that a judge's staff attorney is on the "zip it" side of the line.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Hmm, my bad. I misread this as that her boss was on the panel of judges conducting the proceedings, and therefore possibly working on these proceedings herself.

Since that is not the case, I'd have to agree with you that she should be free to comment (clearly, it may have implications on her employment status, nonetheless.)

ebyrdstarr 4 years ago

I never said she should be free to comment.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Perhaps "free" is too strong a word. Not prohibited?

Liberty275 4 years ago

She tweeted opinion based on research paid for by her client.

blindrabbit 4 years ago

As the old saying goes, "there is a rotten fish in Denmark". Most posters think that this gal posted about Kline because of her dislike for him. I'm suspicious, and think this is part of a ploy on her part and that of the defense to somehow cause bias in the ruling and perhaps a mistrial or a dismisal of charges. Kline is a snake and woulf not put anything past him.

Cait McKnelly 4 years ago

Totally off topic but the saying is actually, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." (The "state of" is frequently dropped and the sentence contracted to just, "Something is rotten in Denmark.") It's from Shakespeare's play, "Hamlet".

mdfraz 4 years ago

You don't have a jury in a disciplinary hearing. Therefore, there is no mistrial.

volunteer 4 years ago

Such poor judgment by Judge Marquart's staffer. This is an explosive case, as one can tell by reading the majority opinion in State v. Kline ("We'll be watching you") and the blistering partial dissent by then-Justice Kay Mcfarland. Throw in Governor Brownback's lust for altering the judicial selection process and you have a situation where all state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals attorneys obviously should refrain from tweeting their predictions.

Liberty275 4 years ago

"The tweets predicted that Kline would be disbarred for seven years. They also included several disparaging comments about Kline and his actions in the courtroom."

Sounds legal as it was nothing an attorney wouldn't say on the steps of the courthouse, client by his side. OTOH, if the state did not give her permission to speak publicly about the case, that's a violation of attorney/client privilege since she was employed by the state. She is making public predictions based on research paid for for a client. So Kansas, was she speaking legally on your behalf, or did she break your attorney/client privilege?

What will it be then?.

Cait McKnelly 4 years ago

Something has me confused. This is an attorney so she should know the difference between disbarment and suspension. (I'm not even an attorney and I know the difference, but then I'm the wife of a paralegal and law student.) Disbarment is not something that happens (or can happen) for a specific period of time. Disbarment is outright revocation of a license to practice law. There are provisions in the state law to "rehabilitate" a disbarred license but the process is very difficult and arduous. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times it's been done in the state's history.
So here is my confusion. "The tweets predicted that Kline would be disbarred for seven years."
Was this actually what she tweeted or is this the interpretation of a reporter? I can see her saying he would be suspended for seven years, but not disbarred.
And by the way, I've said this before, but the reason Stan Hazlett is seeking permanent suspension and not disbarment is precisely because of the rehabilitation provision. Permanent suspension would be the only way to actually ensure Kline would never practice law in the state again.

Jordan Wright 4 years ago

You know what happened here? Someone posted personal opinions privately on Twitter who happened to work for the court. What didn't happen? A conspiracy. End of story.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Kline should be disbarred forever. He is costing taxpayers too much money for his unacceptable behavior as a stalker of those who believe in women's right to choose.

While in office he was using tax dollars to further his own private agenda. Gov Sam Brownback is doing this also.

msezdsit 4 years ago

One tweet used offensive language to comment about Kline’s facial expression. Another predicted that Kline would be disbarred by the court for seven years for his conduct.

To bad honesty is being punished by the courts. This women called it like it is. However, when forced to have to deal with these right wing wacko fanatics it is easy to fall into fighting fire with fire but it is always best to take the high road as hard as it may be.

This women was well within her personal right to comment on this case since she wasn't involved in the case. This happens all the time. Oh, except in the case of a right wing lying wacko who should be put in a hole and have food dropped into him once in a great while.

Shelley Bock 4 years ago

I suspect that this was so not thought through by the research attorney. She wasn't working on the case and believed she'd be communicating with friends. She has a right to express her opinion about matters not before her judge, but best to be over a beer or glass of wine far from the Judicial Building.

She likely never believed that anyone would be interested in her opinion, but that's not the case with Kline's forces. Since they have challenged so many of the justices, it is clear that is part of their strategy, to discredit all who might poses a threat. This, unfortunately, gives his forces another reason to attack the propriety of the process. This is in line with the form of guerrilla legal thinking that Kline espouses. Nothing is out-of-line for Kline's forces. That's something the research attorney should have recognized and been perceptive to avoid.

Well, damage has been done and I suspect that the research attorney won't be going on twitter for quite a while. Hope this simmers over.

verity 4 years ago

I'm not in a position to judge the legality of what Ms Herr did, but really, people. Haven't we learned yet to be very careful about what we put in writing anywhere, but particularly where the general public can see it? Even what we write on these boards can be exposed.

Everything that pops into your mind does not have to be expressed and too often it's other people who get hurt.

The Petraeus fiasco is a case in point, although most of the people involved seem to be somewhat shady. What is really scary about it is that our top spy was so stupid.

Shelley Bock 4 years ago

Disagree with being fired. She found herself inexperienced playing in the big leagues with the heavy hitters who don't take prisoners. Given some experience, she'd know better. As is, she made an error, one which will likely never be repeated.

Move on.

RustWatcher 4 years ago

The big leagues used to be able to make it up and float it with impunity. With internet social media, it is nice to see someone who bucks the big leagues and goes with giving the rest of the public a little idea of the goings on. Describing Kiline in an unflattering way isn't a sport, it's what Herr saw. I like it in that she spoke her mind.

Remember how many politicos like Kline leak their agenda to the world. Those leaks affect lives...her tweet isn't going to make Kline's case go away for him. He's already cooked his goose overdone.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

I've gone back and forth on this situation, mostly because I don't know that much about the facts of it. Not that any (or many) of us do.

Whether she loses her job is probably 100% up to the judge she works for, at whose discretion she works.

Commenting the way she did wasn't a great idea for reasons already well covered. But I don't see how it could have any effect on the final outcome.

RustWatcher 4 years ago

As an employee of the court she may have crossed the line. I for one want to see CSPAN in all the courts. Judges and lawyers are too protected. Judges should not be appointed for life. I know of a case where Elsbeth Schafer, a Topeka judge flat out lied in decisions to sway to the State's point of view.

Lawyers and judges are NOT perfect, and need monitoring just like the other brances of government.

RustWatcher 4 years ago

What's amazing is the Judicial system protects its own. When Schafer and another attorney who worked for the state were reported for lies, the Judicial review board ignored the complaint and let lies stand. No review ever took place.

Kline was too high profile for them to ignore. Snakes all...

RustWatcher 4 years ago

Kline abused his power, and got caught. As a politician, I already know he's probably a liar. Most of them are.

Kansas politicians should take note that they are NOT the conscience of all people. These extremists are making Kansas the laughing stock of not only the nation, but the world.

MyName 4 years ago

Clearly Kline's allies think he's going to lose. Otherwise, they wouldn't be reaching for this conspiracy/miscarriage of justice line before a decision has even been made.

SeaBee 4 years ago

Maybe she should have just been doing her Dam job instead of messing around with her phone.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

How do you know she wasn't doing her job, and the tweets (which probably took about 30 seconds to do) were made in her off time?

SeaBee 4 years ago

"The tweets were posted Thursday during a Kansas Supreme Court hearing deciding whether Kline’s law license should be indefinitely suspended for his conduct during investigations of abortion providers. The comments appeared around 10 a.m. Thursday when Kline was standing before the seven-member court"

"During" and "when" kind of read that way.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Point taken. I should have reread the article before posting.

Still doesn't mean that it detracted from doing her job, especially since the judge she works for is not on the panel.

JackMcKee 4 years ago

What the hell is going on in this state?

Dan Eyler 4 years ago

Whether or not Kline wins or loses we are performing no late term abortions in our state. I'm satisfied with the outcome either say. I'm not in favor of eliminating all abortions but eliminating late term abortions is something all Kansans can smile about. Well maybe not all.

Cait McKnelly 4 years ago

Especially those women with life threatening illnesses and nonviable fetuses.

jonas_opines 4 years ago

"However, when forced to have to deal with these right wing wacko fanatics it is easy to fall into fighting fire with fire . . ."

Yes, it appears so.

". . . but it is always best to take the high road as hard as it may be."


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