TOPEKA — A hearing into former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline's conduct while investigating abortion providers resumed on Tuesday with testimony from a woman who once led a grand jury and complained that Kline and his subordinates misled the group.
A three-member panel of the state Board for Discipline of Attorneys hopes to wrap up its hearings this week. It will make a recommendation to the Kansas Supreme Court on whether Kline should face any sanctions for actions he took while attorney general from 2003 to 2007 and as Johnson County district attorney in 2007 and 2008.
Kline is now a visiting assistant professor of law at Liberty University in Virginia.
The state Supreme Court, which has the final say in any penalty, already has criticized Kline in decisions in abortion cases.
The three-member panel had eight days of hearings in February and March. The latest hearings focus on an allegation that when Kline was district attorney, he and his office misled a Johnson County grand jury that was formed late in 2007 to investigate a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Stephanie Hensel, the presiding juror, said Kline and his subordinates provided incomplete and misleading information about state law, prompting the grand jury to issue a subpoena for Planned Parenthood records. The grand jury eventually withdrew it and never issued an indictment.
"My concern was that we had been purposely misled on the law," Hensel told the panel. "I still feel that way."
Kline strongly disputes that he or his subordinates provided incomplete or misleading information. He also contends that Hensel and attorneys representing the grand jury acted improperly during the grand jury's investigation, negotiating with Planned Parenthood attorneys to get records more quickly, even after issuing the subpoena.
Kline and his supporters also contend that the investigation of his conduct is politically motivated.
"I'm confident in the truth. I'm not in the process," Kline said before the hearing resumed.
Ron Keefover, a spokesman for the state disciplinary administrator's office, which is pursuing a complaint against Kline before the disciplinary board, said the office and the board are independent of the court.
Other than recommending an investigation of Kline's conduct in a decision, Keefover said, "The court has no involvement at this stage."
Hensel testified that Kline and subordinates told the grand jury that abortion providers were required by state law to report each case of a patient under 16 to authorities as a sexual abuse case, because the state's age of consent is 16.
That was in line with a legal opinion Kline issued as attorney general in 2003, but it prompted a federal lawsuit and a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing the law as Kline spelled out. A federal appeals court dismissed the case as moot after a new reporting law took effect in 2007.
Hensel testified that the grand jury didn't know about the previous version of the law, the federal lawsuit or the federal judge's injunction until it was going through a law book in its discussions — even though it had asked Kline's office for information about any relevant case, ruling or interpretation.
During a break, Kline said he and his staff provided an accurate summary of the law. His attorneys later produced a transcript from a December 2007 grand jury meeting with Kline's comments to the grand jury that were more nuanced than in Hensel's account.
Kline said Hensel and other grand jurors were confused by attorneys the grand jury had retained to help it.