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Local judges had hand in Kline sanctions

10/19/2013

By JOHN MILBURN

By JOHN MILBURN

Associated Press

TOPEKA -- The Kansas Supreme Court indefinitely suspended the law license of former state Attorney General Phill Kline on Friday, following allegations of ethical misconduct during his investigation of abortion providers.

The court agreed with a state disciplinary panel that Kline repeatedly misled or allowed subordinates to mislead others, including a Kansas City-area grand jury, to further his investigations. The unanimous decision came after repeated disputes between the Republican and critics of his tactics.

Tom Condit, Kline's attorney, said Friday Kline reasserted he never intentionally lied or misled others in pursuit of his case. He and Kline were reviewing the ruling and considering their next steps, Condit said.

Because five justices stepped aside in the case, several district judges were named to a panel to hear the misconduct case. The judges included Ed Bouker, based in Hays, and Bruce Gatterman, whose district covers both Rush and Ness counties.

In 2007, Kline filed 107 criminal charges against a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Kansas City suburbs, accusing it of performing illegal abortions and falsifying records. The last of those charges were dropped in August 2012. He also pursued misdemeanor criminal charges against Dr. George Tiller because of late-term abortions performed by his Wichita clinic. The case was dismissed for jurisdictional reasons.

Kline began the investigations of both providers just months into his 2003-2007 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.

Justices said Kline committed "significant and numerous" violations as an attorney while pursuing prosecutions as attorney general and district attorney in Johnson County.

"Kline's inability or refusal to acknowledge or address their significance is particularly troubling in light of his service as the chief prosecuting attorney for this State and its most populous county," the Supreme Court wrote.

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.

Condit maintained that state disciplinary administrator Stan Hazlett and others built their case against Kline by taking out-of-context snippets of his statements over six years.

"If this is the standard of honesty in Kansas, there are a lot of attorneys who are going to be taking a long vacation," Condit said. "Fact finders are human and they can be wrong. In this case they are wrong."

The Supreme Court said Kline could ask for his license to be reinstated after three years, but that any application would be reviewed by the court. The justices also could seek additional review by the state disciplinary panel for attorneys.

When Kline was the subject of an ethics investigation before the state's highest court last year, an appeals court attorney tweeted disparaging comments about Kline -- and predicted he would be disbarred. The attorney, Sarah Peterson Herr, was suspended and later fired for her actions. She faces a state disciplinary hearing in December.

Kline was Johnson County district attorney in 2007 and 2008. He is now a visiting professor at Liberty University in Virginia.

• The Hays Daily News contributed to this report.