In a new ethics complaint that alleges large-scale abuse of office, the former attorney general of Kansas is 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.
All of this occurred during Attorney General Phill Kline’s unsuccessful pursuit of Tiller, the doctor who ran Women’s Health Care Services of Wichita and was shot to death, allegedly by an anti-abortion extremist, in 2009.
Kline is also accused of violating professional standards by appearing on the O’Reilly Factor five days before the 2006 election to talk about his pursuit of Tiller, flouting a warning from the state Supreme Court not to publicize legal positions. He was up for reelection as AG at the time.Kline, who has forged his career as a single-minded opponent of abortion — he was named Man of the Year in 2006 by anti-abortion group Operation Rescue — now teaches law at Liberty University in Virginia. He faces a hearing in May before a state board for the discipline of attorneys, and he could lose his law license, a spokesman for the disciplinary administrator tells TPMmuckraker.
The ethics complaint, filed Tuesday, is the product of an investigation by the disciplinary administrator, who reports to the state Supreme Court, according to the Kansas City Star. The probe was prompted by complaints from Tiller’s lawyer and the forewoman of a grand jury called to investigate Planned Parenthood. Kline’s attorney has promised a “full-blooded response.”
Kline’s pursuit of Tiller and Planned Parenthood of Kansas began almost immediately when Kline took office as AG in 2003 and continued for years.
Here’s what the ethics complaint alleges:
Shortly after taking office, Kline met in April 2003 with top deputies to discuss how best to target Tiller and his clinic. A plan was laid out to access confidential medical files held by the state department of health and social services agency.
The AG’s office was purportedly investigating whether Tiller performed abortions on girls who were under 16 without filing a required “abuse of child” report with authorities. Such a requirement existed, according to the AG, because Kline himself had issued an opinion saying that any sex with a person under 16 was “abuse of a child.” Therefore pregnancy would require an abuse report.
As part of the investigation, the AG’s office allegedly obtained confidential information about child abuse from the state social services agency under false pretenses. An AG’s office memo says: “If asked to explain the nature of the inquiry, [social services] will be told that the Attorney General desires to determine if there is a serious latent sexual abuse problem in Kansas.”
The ethics complaint alleges the AG’s office was in fact going on a fishing expedition to see if any of the child abuse records matched up with patients who had visited Tiller, thus providing a specific instance of failure to report abuse.
In 2005, Kline successfully requested a subpoena for motel records from the La Quinta Inn in Wichita, where many of Tiller’s patients stayed. The motel was forced to produce records of those who received a medical discount for lodging, a “detailed record of all telephone calls” to or from the patients’ rooms, as well as the names of any traveling companions.
To identify patients of Tiller, Kline’s office then compared the motel records with abortion records from the state department of health. That effort produced 221 possible names, according to the complaint.
Apparently not satisfied, Kline’s staff then allegedly staked out Tiller’s clinic, recording license plate numbers of visitors and employees. They then attempted to run the numbers through state databases to identify who was going to the clinic. That effort went on for the better part of a year, according to the complaint:
[B]etween January 2005, and the Fall of 2005, the respondent ‘s subordinates engaged in an effort to identify visitors and employees of Dr. Tiller’s clinic by staking out the clinic, following visitors and employees to their vehicles and recording automobile license plate numbers. Attempts were made to run the numbers through state agencies in order to identify the name of the driver.
Kline deputy Eric Rucker allegedly later lied to the state Supreme Court when he said the AG was “not pursuing the identity of any adult woman who had obtained services” from the abortion clinic.
In 2006, Kline lost his reelection bid, but was immediately appointed to fill the vacant office of Johnson County District Attorney. What would happen to all the abortion records his office had amassed?
In short, he couldn’t let go.
As his term wound to a close, a judge ordered that he produce a “status and disposition report” of all the files in the Tiller investigation.
Three days before the end of Kline’s term, the abortion records ended up stored in the back of the car of one of his deputies, and then in an open garage. They were finally brought to the DA’s office in Shawnee County, where Kline wanted to refer the case.
On Jan. 8, 2007, Kline’s last day as AG, Special Agent Tom Williams, acting on Kline’s instructions, went back to the DA’s office to retrieve the abortion records. Williams then went to Kinko’s and “spent about one hour in full public view copying the private medical files of the women,” according to the complaint.
Another agent was directed to keep the Tiller and Planned Parenthood files at his apartment, until they could be transferred to Kline’s new office. He “put the records in a Rubbermaid container, where they sat in his dining room for over forty (40) days.” (The state Supreme Court later called the dining room incident “grossly incompetent.”)
Kline even assured a deputy that a judge had given Kline approval to take the abortion records. The judge later testified under oath that he had done no such thing.
In April 2007, after the judge discovered what had happened and ordered the abortion records returned, Kline was asked at a court hearing if he had kept any copies. Kline responded that he had not. According to the complaint, his office had in fact produced summaries of all the medical records.
Kline later testified that he had “a summary of three records” when in fact he had summaries of 60 of the Tiller records.
On top of all of this, he told the disciplinary administrator during the ethics investigation that the files were always “kept under lock and key,” despite the Kinko’s and dining room episodes.
Kline ultimately filed misdemeanor charges against Tiller in December 2006, alleging he had performed illegal late-term abortions. A judge threw out the case a day later. In 2009, Tiller was acquitted of more abortion-related charges brought by Kline’s Democratic successor.
Here’s the full ethics complaint: