It’s not every day that GQ magazine puts a Kansan on its cover. The men's fashion monthly did just that in November of 2005, however, when it prominently featured Attorney General, Phill Kline and his anti-abortion crusade. The magazine declared him “the future of the pro-life movement.” Within four years of the GQ spread, Kline stood defeated in his epic battle against abortion. He finished the year under a cloud of professional misconduct—having been formally charged of ethical wrongdoing by the very state he once served.
In 1986, while still in law school at the University of Kansas, Phill Kline ran against a sitting Democratic congressman in Kansas’s 2nd District. He won the Republican primary, but was trounced in the general election. In 1992, Kline ran for a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives, and won. He won re-election four more times. In 1998, Kline sought to unseat first term Democratic Congressman, Dennis Moore in Kansas' 3rd congressional district, but lost by two percentage points.
In 2001, United States Senators for Kansas, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts nominated Kline for a post as U.S. Attorney. Since the GOP held a minority in the US Senate at that time, Kline feared he would not be confirmed. So he withdrew his name. Instead, Kline ran for Kansas Attorney General in 2002. His campaign platform promised to interpret the laws regulating abortion more stringently than any of his predecessors. Shortly after Kline’s electoral victory, he began a total war against abortion providers.
On June 18, 2003, Kline signed Attorney General Opinion number 2003-17. Kline held that as a matter of law any pregnant female under the age of 16 had been sexually abused. As a result, abortion providers were told to inform the state anytime a pregnant female under the age of 16 sought their services. In a previous administration, Attorney General Bob Stephan had “concluded a case by case analysis must first be conducted as to whether an injury has occurred before there is the triggering of the reporting requirement."
With the stroke of a pen, he "overturned a decade old opinion," according to a complaint later filed by the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys.
Further, according to this complaint, Kline brought together his Senior Deputy Attorney General, Eric Rucker, and Kansas Bureau of Investigation Special Agent, Tom Williams for a critical staff meeting on April 2, 2003. They planned an legal attack on a Wichita health clinic, Women’s Health Care Services, and Dr. George Tiller."
Dr. Tiller performed abortions, including so-called late term abortions. His clinics had been under constant attack by the anti-abortion movement, including a wave of mass protests and sit-ins organized by Operation Rescue, since before 1983. In 1993 he was shot in both arms by Shelly Shannon as he was leaving his clinic.
Dr. Tiller was assassinated by Scott Roeder, who shot the doctor while he was serving as an usher in his Lutheran church in 2009.
Phill Kline's War
Phill Kline's prosecution of Dr. Tiller began without any proof of the doctor's guilt, but with the assumption "that Dr. Tiller performed one or more of the under age 15 abortions,” and that he did this without properly reporting them. To build his case against Tiller, Kline needed the names and ages of these supposedly under-aged patients who obtained abortions. So he sought to have the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and Social Rehabilitation Services (SRS) turn over their abortion records to his office.
Kline's Assistant Attorneys General Maxwell and Williams penned a “CONFIDENTAL MEMO,” on July 15, 2003, outlining their desire to subpoena private patient records from KDHE and SRS. They recognized that a legal barrier stood in their way, however. Maxwell allegedly acknowledged that before Kline could win any subpoenas, a legal obstacle needed to be overcome. Specifically, Maxwell wrote, the "absence of a definite complaint or allegation that a medical provider knowingly failed to report a specific sexual abuse as statutorily defined.”
To overcome these barriers, Kline’s office implemented a set of deceptive legal tactics.
First, Kline's Attorney General’s office requested and received statistical information from SRS about incidents of sexual abuse from 2002-2003. In the process, he did not reveal the true nature of the inquiry. This deception later became a point of contention during a hearing on an ethical complaint filed against him by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, a Kansas state agency. Kline argued that his office’s strategy was well within the law. To mislead SRS "would not have been a problem," Kline testified. When pressed further by the panel of the board, Kline raised his voice and stated, "That is normal conduct. It was appropriate."
Later, Kline used this SRS data, purposely-skewed by his office, to induce a district judge in order to force Tiller and Planned Parenthood to turn over patient records.
According to the complaint, “Maxwell knew that the statistical information contained in his representations to the court were misleading, however, he did not take any action to correct his representations or correct the misunderstanding of the court.” Neither did Kline’s Chief Investigator Williams, “although he knew the SRS figures were,” in his own words, “‘obviously flawed’.”
The tactics employed by Kline and his lieutenants were ultimately successful. In 2004, the courts ordered the KDHE to turn over confidential records of abortion patients to the Attorney General’s office. Kline and his staff had won an opening battle against Dr. Tiller and Planned Parenthood.
Phill Kline Out the Window
Enter Paul Morrison, a Republican District Attorney in Johnson County who switched parties in 2006, and defeated Phill Kline in the race for Kansas Attorney General. Despite being involved in a losing re-election battle, Kline took the time that year to file 19 abortion-related misdemeanor charges against Dr. Tiller. In the months immediately after that election, Johnson County Republican precinct committee persons selected Kline to serve in the now vacant district attorney position. Ten months later, in October 2007, now District Attorney Kline filed 107 criminal counts against Planned Parenthood in suburban Kansas City. Johnson County Republicans grew tired of Kline's all-consuming war against abortion rights, however, and in August of 2008, Kline lost the Republican primary for Johnson County District Attorney. His GOP opponent took 60% of the vote.
Kline's off-the-charts war against Kansas abortion providers cost him first, his position as Kansas State Attorney General and later, his job as Johnson County District Attorney.
In March 2009, with Kline out of office, jurors took about an hour to acquit Dr. Tiller on the 19 charges. The case against Planned Parenthood has not yet been heard. Despite five years as a prosecutor, Kline had not won a single count against either Tiller or Planned Parenthood. Further, at the end of 2009, the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys formally charged Kline and his former top lieutenants, Stephen Maxwell and Eric Rucker, with ethics violations allegedly committed during his war against abortion rights.
At that point, Kline had ceased to be the “future of the pro-life movement.”
Enter the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator
After an investigation by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, a Kansas state agency headed by Stanton A. Hazlett, a formal complaint was lodged against Phill Kline for alleged ethical violations as Johnson County's District Attorney and as the Kansas Attorney General.
The 36-page complaint against Kline outlines a number of allegations:
- Kline told the KS Supreme Court that his office had not sought the identities of women who obtained abortions. Although, “Agent Jared Reed of the AG’s Office compared subpoenaed La Quinta Inn records for adult and underage patients with the KDHE abortion records.” Reed’s efforts allowed the Attorney General’s office the ability to create a list of names, addresses, and phone numbers of 221 adult and juvenile abortion patients.
- Kline’s staff conducted surveillance at Dr. Tiller’s clinic in 2005. His staff followed visitors and employees to their cars, and ran their plate numbers through state agencies databases in an attempt to identify them.
- Kline’s top deputy, Mr. Rucker, made three false statements to the Kansas Supreme Court, in an attempt to conceal the fact that the Attorney General’s office had attempted to identify Dr. Tiller’s patients.
- Kline spoke publicly in a news conference about sealed court documents.
- Kline appeared on the Bill O’Reilly Show six days before his general election in 2006. He did so after he was cautioned by the Kansas Supreme Court to stop publicizing his legal positions. Kline later testified that his appearance on the show was “to dispel any belief, ‘that I was after their personal medical records, as well as their identities.’” But, “[b]y this point in time, the respondent [Kline] had obtained the names of the adult women.”
- Kline shared confidential records of women who received late-term abortions with O’Reilly. He pronounced, “We have obtained those records” during Kline’s television appearance.
- Kline’s staff improperly handled redacted medical files by storing them in a private vehicle, a garage, and an investigator’s dinning room. His staff also made copies of those records on Kline’s last day in the Attorney General’s office.
- Kline misrepresented the location of medical records and denied to the Kansas Supreme Court and a Shawnee County Judge that he took copies of the Tiller records from his Attorney General’s office to his new position as District Attorney.
- District Attorney Kline misled a grand jury investigating Planned Parenthood by cherry-picking presented information.
Remembering that all these points listed above are allegations, they needed to be adjudicated at a hearing in Topeka.
Before the ethics hearing began, however, Kline attempted to impugn the integrity of the panel investigating him. He sought to remove both Calvin J. Karlin and JoAnn Butaud from the three-member panel. Kline’s “Motion to Disqualify” claimed that Karlin’s past political donations should have forced his recusal. Karlin had in fact given one of Kline’s opponents a hundred dollar campaign donation. According to Kline, Karlin was likely to exhibit an ant-Kline bias. The motion also called for Butaud to step down, asserting that she had denied a previous request for the panel to self-disclose any potential conflicts of interest.
The first stage of the hearing on the first count ended in March. A second stage of the hearing is planned for July. If the three-member panel of the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys should find Kline guilty, their findings must be submitted to the Kansas Supreme Court for final adjudication. That court will decide what sanction if any—including possible disbarment—Kline should receive.
In the meantime, Phill Kline is quietly ensconced as a law professor at Liberty University in Virginia, teaching anti-choice students his version of the law.
1. Brownlee, Phillip.“GQ Discovers Phill Kline.” WE Blog Wichita Eagle Editorial Department Blog, October, 27 2005. Accessed: February 22, 2011. http://blogs.kansas.com/weblog/2005/10/gq_discovers_ph/.
2. Hrenchir, Tim. “Higher principle.” Topeka Capital Journal, 8 July 2002, Accessed March 6, 2011, http://cjonline.com/stories/070802/leg_kline1.shtml.
4. Complaint at p. 2, The Matter of Phillip D. Kline, No. DA10,088 and DA10,598 (The Kansas Supreme Court of Kansas before The Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys, 2011).
5. Ibid. p. 3
8. Ibid. p.2
10. Ibid. p. 3
12. Ibid. p. 4
14. Associated Press, “Phil Kline says deception OK in abortion investigation.” Boston Herald, February, 21 2001. Accessed February 28, 2001, http://www.bostonherald.com/
17. Complaint at p. 6, The Matter of Phillip D. Kline, No. DA10,088 and DA10,598 (The Kansas Supreme Court of Kansas before The Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys, 2011).
19. Ibid. p. 8
20. Brownlie, Peter. "Planned Parenthood calls charges 'baseless'." Kansas City Star, The (MO) October 18, 2007, 1, Accessed: NewsBank. Web. February 25, 2011.
21. Associated Press. “Kline loses Johnson County district attorney primary.” Lawrence Journal World, 5 August 2008. Accessed: February 25, 2011, http://www2.ljworld.com/
22. Sullinger, Jim. "Jury finds abortion doctor not guilty on 19 charges." Kansas City Star, The, Mar 28, 2009. NewsBank. Web. February 25, 2011.
23. Klepper, David.“Phill Kline defends abortion investigation, tactics.” Kansas City Star, The, February 22, 2011. Accessed: February 27, 2011. http://www.kansascity.com/2011/02/21/2672821/phill-kline-defends-abortion-investigation.html.
24. Complaint at p. 9, The Matter of Phillip D. Kline, Formal Complaint. No. DA10,088 and DA10,598 (The Kansas Supreme Court of Kansas before The Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys, 2011).
26. Ibid. p.10-12
27. Ibid. p. 12
28. Ibid. p. 15
30. Motion at p. 5, In the Matter of Phill Kline, Motion to Disqualify. No. DA10,088 and DA10,598 (The Kansas Supreme Court of Kansas before The Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys, February 11, 2011).
31. Ibid. p. 6.
Michael McCormack Enriquez is a program and research assistant at IREHR.