TOPEKA — Former Attorney General Phill Kline testified in a state ethics hearing Wednesday that he and his subordinates sought to be "straight up and honest" with a Kansas City-area grand jury investigating an abortion clinic, strongly disputing an allegation that they weren't.
Kline testified after the state office pursuing a professional misconduct complaint against him finished presenting its case. The complaint stems from Kline's actions during investigations of abortion providers while he was attorney general from 2003 to 2007 and Johnson County district attorney in 2007 and 2008.
The complaint alleges that Kline and his staff mishandled patients' medical records and misled other officials to further potential prosecutions of abortion providers.
A three-member panel of the state Board for Discipline of Attorneys will recommend to the Kansas Supreme Court whether he should face sanctions. The court has criticized Kline in past decisions in abortion cases.
Among other things, the complaint alleges that Kline and his staff in the Johnson County district attorney's office gave incomplete and misleading information to a grand jury that convened in late 2007 to investigate a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park. The allegation came from the grand jury's presiding juror, who testified Tuesday.
"We were not trying to pull any punches. We were trying to be straight up and honest about what we knew," Kline testified. "I properly educated them."
Kline was expected to give more testimony today.
His attorneys attempted Wednesday to cast doubt on testimony from Stephanie Hensel, the grand jury's presiding juror. Her testimony and others has shown a strained relationship between the district attorney's office under Kline and the grand jury, which retained its own attorneys, not wanting to rely entirely on Kline's staff.
The disciplinary administrator's office has portrayed Hensel as the grand jury's spokeswoman and presented testimony designed to show that Kline's office sometimes acted on jurors' behalf without consulting them.
But Kline's attorneys describe the grand jury as beset by internal disagreements and have questioned its decisions, such as negotiating with Planned Parenthood attorneys to obtain records even after issuing a subpoena. The grand jury never issued an indictment, and Kline said during a break in testimony that actions by Hensel and the grand jury's attorneys "killed" its investigation of the clinic.
"That grand jury was dysfunctional," Kline said.
Hensel testified Tuesday that Kline's office withheld information about what was required under Kansas law and about past court cases — information that might have prevented the grand jury from issuing its subpoena.
Kline's attorneys have gone over transcripts of grand jury meetings to show information presented to its members was more nuanced than Hensel represented in a complaint to the disciplinary administrator. Kline testified Wednesday that his office provided a common-sense — but accurate — summary of the law.
Stephen Maxwell, a former Kline subordinate who is now a senior assistant district attorney in Reno County, testified that he worried at the time that "anti-Kline people" were steering the grand jury. He said he urged Kline to become less involved, which Kline did.
In August 2010, Maxwell, who'd also faced an ethics complaint, agreed to an informal admonishment, including a statement that he hadn't provided enough information to the grand jury about Kansas law — and his actions could have affected its decision to subpoena Planned Parenthood records. But the statement also said he didn't intentionally mislead jurors.
"I made a mistake," he testified. "I didn't do anything to mislead the grand jury."