Kansas Supreme Court Suspends Ex-Attorney General Over Abortion Investigation

Phill Kline turns to face Disciplinary Administrator Stan Hazlett in the Kansas Supreme Court while speaking before the Supreme Court justices, Nov. 15, 2012.
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Updated: October 18, 2013, 4:52 PM

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday indefinitely suspended former Attorney General Phillip Kline (R), who investigated abortion doctor George Tiller, from the practice of law in the state.

The court cited “clear and convincing evidence” that Kline committed 11 violations of attorney conduct rules while investigating abortion clinics as attorney general and for his role in a grand jury investigation while serving as Johnson County district attorney.

“Ultimately, we unanimously conclude the weight of the aggravating factors–i.e., Kline’s inability or refusal to acknowledge the line between overzealous advocacy and operating within the bounds of the law and his professional obligations; his selfish motives; and his lengthy and substantial pattern of misconduct–weigh more heavily than the mitigating factors and merit his indefinite suspension,” the court wrote in its opinion.

The court’s findings against Kline, who served as Kansas attorney general from 2003 to 2007, stem from a complaint first filed against him in 2010. As TPM reported at the time, Kline was accused of “dispatching staff to record license plates of women entering George Tiller’s abortion clinic, getting records from a motel where patients stayed, and obtaining state medical files under false pretenses, then retaining them after his term as AG was over and repeatedly lying about it in court.” These alleged actions occurred during Kline’s pursuit of Tiller, who ran Women’s Health Care Services in Wichita, Kan., and who was shot to death in 2009.

Kline’s attorney, Thomas Condit, told The Kansas City Star on Friday that the Supreme Court’s disciplinary action was the result of the “cherry picking” of oral and written comments over a period of years.

“There was never any deliberate dishonesty on Mr. Kline’s part,” Condit told the newspaper.

According to the Star, Kline must wait three years before seeking the reinstatement of his law license.

Kline, who is now an assistant professor of law at the Pastor Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University in Virginia, has previously stated that he does not intend to practice law in Kansas again. In fact, while the disciplinary process was playing out, his license was suspended for a time for failure to pay annual registration fees — Kline testified at the time that “I don’t believe I should be here and I didn’t want to send you money.”

His official biography on Liberty University’s website portrays him as victim of the “abortion industry.”

“Aside from these accomplishments, almost all media attention regarding Kline has focused on abortion,” the biography reads. “His efforts have led the national abortion industry to pour millions of dollars into Kansas to attack and vilify him. Through it all, he continued to fight to enforce Kansas law and hold all accountable under the law.”

Kline did not immediately reply to a request for comment from TPM.

Update 4:52 PM: Condit, Kline’s attorney, called TPM on Friday afternoon, and reiterated the points he made to the Star. Condit quibbled with the Supreme Court citing 11 violations, saying that it had actually upheld only some of the violations the ethics panel found.

“Most of the six things that were upheld… really come down to just cherry picking things that seem inconsistent with something else, reading it in the worst possible spirit, and declaring it a deliberate lie,” Condit said.

According to Condit, he and Kline are still considering “all options.” Asked whether his client even wanted to practice law in Kansas anymore, Condit said that one issue is that if Kline wants to get licensed in another jurisdiction, and is suspended in Kansas, he likely won’t get the other license.

“That’s what makes it such a devastating thing,” Condit said.

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