10th Circuit Won’t Reinstate Disbarred Kansas AG

(CN) – The 10th Circuit has tossed former Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline’s lawsuit against the Kansas Supreme Court over his suspension from practicing law due to ethical violations in his investigations of abortion clinics in the state.

In 2013, the Kansas Supreme Court suspended Kline from practicing law in the state after finding he violated 11 ethical rules during his investigation of abortion clinics while he served as attorney general and later as Johnson County’s district attorney.

Kline’s 10th Circuit appeal stems from his 2015 lawsuit against the Kansas high court’s justices, in which he contended the suspension was unconstitutional and arbitrary. Five of the justices recused themselves from his suspension case after he argued they were involved in previous cases against him.

The recusals led to Kline claiming the suspension was unlawful because it did not involve at least four of the seven justices. He also claimed the replacement judges were unlawfully appointed by Justice Daniel Biles.

Chief U.S. District Judge Greg Kays of the Western District of Missouri dismissed Kline’s complaint in November 2016, leading to the appeal.

“I continue to believe that the federal court took an unduly narrow view of its own jurisdiction when considering the unique facts of Mr. Kline’s case,” Kline’s attorney Tom Condit said when Kline appealed this past December.

But on Monday, the 10th Circuit unanimously affirmed Kays’ decision to dismiss Kline’s appeal. The per curiam opinion cites the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which denies jurisdiction of federal appeals courts to overturn state high courts’ decisions.

“This case is no exception,” the circuit judges wrote. “Almost all of Kline’s claims – that he was injured by the Kansas Supreme Court’s allegedly wrongful judgment – fall squarely within the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.”

The judges cited Johnson v. De Grandy, a previous case where the doctrine came into play.

“Thus, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents a party losing in state court from seeking what in substance would be appellate review of [a] state judgment in a United States district court, based on the losing party’s claim that the state judgment itself violates the loser’s federal rights,” the judges quoted.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 also denied Kline’s petition to hear his disciplinary case.

Kline, who has since moved to Virginia where he teaches at Liberty University’s law school, did not respond to email and phone requests for comment by press time.

Circuit Judges Raymond Gruender, Duane Benton and Jane Kelly, all sitting by designation from the Eight Circuit, made up the panel. The judges decided the case without oral argument.

 

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