Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline will have the opportunity to explain his actions to the state's legal ethics panel in May, as the system allows.
In the meantime, that system deserves better than the trashing it's getting from Kline defenders who say the ethics complaint is "politically motivated" and the hearing panel is "hopelessly compromised" because of two members' past campaign donations.
"It's gutless puppeteering by the Supreme Court," claimed Kansans for Life executive director Mary Kay Culp.
No, it's the legal ethics arm of the Kansas Supreme Court doing its essential job of trying to safeguard the state's judicial system against unethical attorneys.
If Kline does not trust the fairness of two ethics panel members who donated $150 total to his rivals' campaigns, he can seek the panelists' recusal.
Just as anti-abortion activists have demanded that the Kansas Board of Healing Arts hold abortion providers accountable, Kansans look to the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys and the state Supreme Court to hold lawyers accountable.
And in Kline's case, the first step of that accountability was not some flimsy, vague complaint but a 36-page filing by the state's judicial disciplinary administrator that chronicles the actions of Kline and his lieutenants in scathing detail.
Describing Kline's five-year quest to acquire patient records of George Tiller's clinic in Wichita and Planned Parenthood's clinic in Johnson County, the complaint reads like a prosecutor's primer for what not to do.
It says that Kline and his staffers stored redacted medical files in an open garage, a car trunk and an apartment dining room, and copied files at a Kinko's "in full public view" — hardly keeping them "under lock and key," as Kline later assured the disciplinary administrator's investigators. It says that Kline or subordinates made false statements to the Supreme Court and misled a Shawnee County judge and state social services officials, withheld information from a Johnson County grand jury, and staked out Tiller's clinic and recorded license-plate numbers (despite claiming they weren't trying to identify adult patients).
One need not have been to law school to see the ethical problem with these and other alleged actions, such as ignoring a state Supreme Court warning not to "further publicize" a case and instead going on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor." How could the state's top law enforcer and his staff allegedly not have seen the problem? Or was their zeal to close abortion clinics greater than their respect for the law and the Office of the Kansas Attorney General?
Many Kansans have had enough of Kline, who now teaches law at Liberty University in Virginia. But the ethics complaint is serious. If its contents prove to be indefensible, Kline will have earned serious professional sanctions, perhaps including disbarment, along with his 2006 re-election defeat.