Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Altering Kansas Abortion Law Leaves AG Censured

(CN) - Finding that a former attorney general of Kansas committed 11 conduct violations, the state Supreme Court decided to suspend, but not disbar, him.

Some of the violations occurred while Phillip Kline investigated abortion clinics as Kansas attorney general from 2003 to 2007. The rest stemmed from his role with a citizen-requested grand jury while he served as the district attorney for Johnson County.

Kline, who now teaches law at Liberty University in Virginia, issued an opinion as Kansas attorney general stating that any girl under the age of 16 who becomes pregnant is the victim of rape or a sexual abuse crime.

This holding would have required health care workers to report the sexual activity or face possible conviction of a misdemeanor.

A judge quickly enjoined Kansas prosecutors from enforcing the opinion, however, in the face of a federal lawsuit.

Kline's investigation of abortion clinics continued even after he lost the statewide election. He took over as Johnson County District Attorney from Paul Morrison, who had beaten him in the statewide election.

A judge asked Kline to turn over 62 patient files from one clinic, but Kline first asked his staff to prepare handwritten summaries, which included the patients' ages, addresses and referring physicians.

In 2007, Kline slammed another abortion clinic with a 107-count criminal filing that including allegations of unlawfully performing late-term abortions.

A citizen's grand jury convened but failed to issue an indictment against the clinic. Later a disciplinary panel found that Kline had failed to advise the grand jury and stepped outside of his advisory role.

The Kansas Supreme Court took up the proceeding after a disciplinary hearing panel found multiple violations of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct. A disciplinary administrator recommended disbarring Kline, but the panel recommended indefinite suspension.

In a 154-page decision, the high court affirmed many of the findings but said Kline had not intentionally misled a clinic as to the reasons why Kline wanted information from their sexual abuse reports.

The justices also ruled that the evidence did not show he had not issued a false statement when he said his office did not seek the identity of adult abortion patients.

Kline did, however, commit a violation in directing his staff to attach sealed documents to a publicly filed brief in Alpha Med. Clinic v. Anderson, the court found.

"Kline's intentional disregard of that directive lessened the public's confidence in the judicial system's integrity and prejudiced the administration of justice generally," the justices wrote in an unsigned opinion.

The high court also ruled that Kline violated two other rules by filing a motion to clarify false statements.

Though the disciplinary panel had also taken issue with Kline's 2006 appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor," the Kansas Supreme Court did not agree. On the nationally televised show, Kline called abortion clinics "safe haven for child rapists."

The disciplinary panel found that Kline's words were likely to heighten public condemnation of a doctor he was investigating, but the court noted that the ruled prohibiting such conduct did not go into effect until eight months after the interview.

Ultimately, the court accepted the recommendation to indefinitely suspend Kline.

"Kline points out that the panel did not find that he violated any duties to a client. But the obvious flaw is that as Attorney General of the State of Kansas and District Attorney for Johnson County, his 'client' was the public," the justices wrote.

"We have found clear and convincing evidence of multiple violations of rules implicating Kline's duty to the legal system," they added. "He engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of (two rules) by directing sealed documents to be attached to his publicly filed brief in Alpha in direct contravention of the court's order and by failing to advise the grand jury of Aid For Women II and KSA 38-1522, causing the grand jury to issue a subpoena it later believed was not supported by reasonable suspicion, at least with respect to the mandatory reporting aspect."

In conclusion, the justices ruled that "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 Kansas City Star quoted Kline's attorney, Thomas Condit, as calling the ruling unacceptable.

"There was never any deliberate dishonesty on Mr. Kline's part," Condit told the paper.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.