Politics & Government

Brownback names general counsel

TOPEKA — A northeast Kansas county prosecutor who's previously represented missionaries detained in Haiti and former Attorney General Phill Kline will be Gov.-elect Sam Brownback's top staff lawyer.

Jefferson County Attorney Caleb Stegall will become the general counsel for the governor's office when Brownback is sworn in Jan. 10.

Stegall referred questions Tuesday to Brownback's transition team, after Brownback issued a statement saying he's pleased that Stegall agreed to join the administration.

"Caleb is an excellent lawyer," Brownback told reporters later. "He's got a good heart."

It's the second time in less than a week that someone with a tie to Kline, a Republican who became a national figure for investigating abortion providers, has been named to an important job in state government. Last week, Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach announced that he'd picked Kline's former top deputy, Eric Rucker, as assistant secretary of state.

Democrats criticized the appointments Tuesday, saying they showed that Brownback and Kobach, both Republicans, have embraced extreme or radical conservative politics.

"Our state would be better served if the newly elected GOP administration followed the example of moderate leaders," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, citing outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson and his predecessors, Democrat Kathleen Sebelius and Republican Bill Graves, as examples.

Brownback brushed off the criticism, noting that Stegall finished at the top of his law school class. Brownback's staff also pointed out that Stegall previously worked as a clerk for the chief judge of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Stegall, 39, is a Lawrence native who now lives in Perry.

He received national attention this year for representing four Baptist missionaries jailed in Haiti after they were accused of trying to take 33 children out of the country. His clients included a youth pastor from Topeka.

Stegall represented Kline in a legal dispute with a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, over Kline's attempts while Johnson County district attorney to pursue criminal charges that the clinic performed illegal abortions and falsified reports about some procedures to the state. The clinic denied the accusations, and the case is pending.

Stegall also initially represented Kline in professional disciplinary proceedings stemming from his investigations of abortion providers. A disciplinary hearing is set for February on allegations that Kline made false statements and allowed subordinates to mislead other state officials. Kline disputes the accusations, calling them politically motivated.

Stegall also represented Rucker when he faced a disciplinary complaint. Rucker served as Kline's top deputy in the attorney general's and Johnson County district attorney's offices.

A state panel informally admonished Rucker in August for not correcting information provided to the Kansas Supreme Court about Kline's abortion investigations.

Stegall described the outcome as a vindication, and Kobach said Rucker had been "completely exonerated" when he appointed Rucker his top assistant.

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones said Stegall's representation of Kline wasn't a factor in his hiring.