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Ethics panel summons Phill Kline

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010, at 12:06 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at 1:55 p.m.

As Phill Kline waits to testify in the trial of a man accused of killing abortion provider George Tiller, the former Kansas attorney general was ordered to appear before the state ethics commission because of his investigation into Tiller.

The Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys released a complaint Tuesday claiming Kline committed "breaches of trust of his public office" and professional misconduct during his investigations of Tiller.

The complaint said Kline and his deputy prosecutors, in defiance of a court order, pursued the identities of women who had abortions at Tiller's clinic.

The board claims Kline and his deputy prosecutors broke seven Rules of Professional Conduct, including conflict of interest, competence in dealing with complex issues, handling of sensitive documents and misleading judges. The complaint also cites Kline for making improper public comments about ongoing investigations.

Kline insisted he broke no laws and committed no ethical violations during his investigation of Tiller's clinic and a Planned Parenthood facility in the Kansas City area. He has also said he didn't know the identities of adult women who had abortions in Wichita.

"This complaint was fully anticipated, it is deceptively structured, and it is entirely politically motivated," Tom Condit, an attorney for Kline, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

Eric Rucker and Steve Maxwell, Kline's top deputies, also are under investigation for similar complaints. They are accused of making misleading statements to a judge in order to further their investigation. Kline is being investigated as their supervisor.

The disciplinary board has scheduled a hearing for May 26-28 in Topeka. Following that hearing, a three-person board will file a report and the state's Supreme Court will decide whether to take any disciplinary action against Kline, including the possibility of revoking his law license in Kansas.

Tiller investigation

Kline's office began investigating Tiller soon after Kline was elected attorney general in 2002 and continued until he left office.

During the investigation, Kline sought patient records, which became a central issue in his failed bid for re-election.

In December 2006, a month before leaving office, Kline tried unsuccessfully to file criminal charges against Tiller.

In 2005, the complaint said, Kline's office tried to identify women who were having abortions at 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," the complaint said.

The board also cited a subpoena for guest records of the La Quinta Inn, near Tiller's clinic, as another ploy to try to identify women traveling from out of town to have abortions.

The complaint also points to Kline's appearance on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor" with Bill O'Reilly. Kline spoke about the contents of records obtained from the clinic, after the Kansas Supreme Court told him to "resist any impulse to further publicize the respective legal positions," the complaint said.

Kline now teaches at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Mathew Staver, the school's dean, said the complaint won't affect Kline's status there.

He said the "bizarre" history surrounding Kline's investigations raises questions about whether the Supreme Court can be fair.

"Frankly, it looks more like a political witch hunt than an attempt to enforce rules and regulations," Staver said.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, called the complaint "the latest attempt to intimidate" prosecutors and medical regulators out of investigating wrongdoing.

But abortion-rights supporters have long argued that Kline's investigations were driven by his anti-abortion politics.

"This certainly comes as no surprise," said Dan Monnat, a Wichita attorney who represented Tiller.

Earlier this month, Kline received a subpoena from the defense of Scott Roeder, who is charged with killing Tiller last May. Roeder's defense has indicated he followed Kline's investigation of Tiller.

Jury selection is continuing in that case.

Contributing: Associated Press Reach Ron Sylvester at 316-268-6514 or rsylvester@wichitaeagle.com.

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