Johnson County DA says abortion records destroyed

? Kansas’ health department destroyed abortion records that were later sought as evidence in a criminal case against a Planned Parenthood clinic, a prosecutor said in a court record released Friday.

Abortion opponents were stunned by the disclosure, which came only three days before the scheduled start of a preliminary hearing in Johnson County District Court to determine whether the case will go to trial and threatened to delay the proceedings. They saw it as evidence that the administration of former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an abortion-rights Democrat who left office in 2009 to become U.S. health and human services secretary, actively tried to protect abortion providers.

But Planned Parenthood representatives said the documents were shredded as part of the routine destruction of papers by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. They were individual reports on each of 23 abortions performed at the clinic in 2003, filed by the clinic with KDHE as required by state law.

The clinic, in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, faces 107 charges, including 23 felonies that accuse it of falsifying copies of reports on those abortions and misdemeanor charges of performing illegal late-term abortions. Planned Parenthood denies the allegations.

The health department’s destruction of the reports was disclosed in a request to have the preliminary hearing delayed, filed by the Johnson County district attorney’s office. Planned Parenthood opposes a delay, and District Judge Stephen Tatum is expected to hear arguments Monday.

“This destruction of evidence needs to be investigated,” said Phill Kline, a former Kansas attorney general and Johnson County district attorney who filed the case against the clinic in October 2007. “It’s stunning.”

Kline, a Republican abortion opponent who began investigating abortion providers as attorney general in 2003, said he never knew the records had been destroyed.

But Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the fact that Kline didn’t know KDHE routinely destroyed paper records shows he “bungled” the case before his successor as Johnson County district attorney, Republican Steve Howe, inherited it in 2009.

“Our position remains that this should be further delayed,” Brownlie said of the criminal case. “We’ve said all along that the prosecution doesn’t have any evidence that crimes were committed.”

Chief Deputy Johnson County District Attorney Chris McMullin filed the request for the delay earlier this week, but the district court clerk’s office wouldn’t release a copy without approval from Tatum because documents in the case have been sealed. The Associated Press obtained a copy from Tatum’s office Friday.

McMullin’s request says the district attorney’s office sought “a number” of reports filed by Planned Parenthood with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on abortions performed in 2003. He said the department recently told his office that the reports had been destroyed in “approximately 2005.”

Howe declined to comment further.

The health department also wouldn’t comment. The agency is now under Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican abortion opponent who took office in January.

Kline served as Kansas attorney general from 2003 to 2007. He lost his race for re-election in 2006, but immediately became district attorney, holding the job for two years and losing the Republican primary in 2008 to Howe. Kline is now an assistant visiting professor of law at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the late evangelist Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Kline began investigating abortion providers as attorney general in 2003, and in 2005, his investigations were ongoing. Also, at the time, the attorney general’s office was attempting to gain access to information in patients’ medical records from the Planned Parenthood clinic.

He said Friday that health department officials knew in 2005 that he was investigating Planned Parenthood and resisted turning over its abortion-related documents.

The attorney general’s office did gain access to patients’ medical records, turned over to a Shawnee County judge in August 2006 and edited to remove identifying information. The patients’ records included copies of the reports on each abortion filed with KDHE.

In charging the Planned Parenthood clinic with falsifying documents, Kline said the copies of the abortion reports it turned over to the Shawnee County judge didn’t match those in KDHE’s files. He also charged the clinic with failing to maintain the reports, as required by law, suggesting the clinic created documents later to satisfy the judge.

In a court filing Friday, Planned Parenthood acknowledged “certain idiosyncrasies” in the documents, but Brownlie said there was no wrongdoing.

McMullin said in his court filing that the district attorney’s office needed more time to identify potential witnesses to testify about “secondary evidence” of potential wrongdoing. But Planned Parenthood said in its filing, a response to McMullin’s request, that the district attorney’s office waited until September to subpoena the reports and already had ample time to get its evidence in order.