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New assault on bare-breasted statue, armed with new law

Updated: 2013-09-17T02:37:22Z

By BRAD COOPER

The Kansas City Star

A fresh effort is underway to bring criminal charges over a bare-breasted statue in Overland Park. This time, the push is empowered with a new law giving citizen groups more influence in the process.

The American Family Association of Kansas and Missouri said Monday it plans to start circulating petitions to empanel a grand jury to again investigate whether the sculpture at the Overland Park Arboretum violates state obscenity laws.

The case may signal whether other citizen-led prosecutions — including those launched by anti-abortion groups — can expect more success under the new law.

Overland Park City Manager Bill Ebel said the group has the right to seek another grand jury. He said the city would cooperate with any ensuing investigation. The city spent about $35,000 defending the statue last time.

The latest petition drive, led by group leader Phillip Cosby, comes after the Kansas Legislature changed the state’s citizens’ grand jury law to ensure that aggrieved voters don’t surrender the pursuit of their claims to local prosecutors.

“Now, the second shoe drops,” Cosby said Monday.

Cosby last year petitioned a grand jury to investigate whether the statue is obscene but failed to secure an indictment. He blamed Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe for not leading a thorough investigation. The grand jury session lasted less than a day, and no witnesses were called.

Cosby followed up by joining with abortion opponents to get the Legislature to change the grand jury law. Under the new law, the person filing the petition — in this case Cosby — must be the first person to address the grand jury.

Cosby said he’ll now have the chance to not only explain the petition to the grand jury, but also to provide a list of experts who might be called to testify about the harm the statue might present, especially to children.

“We have a solid case on the harms to minors,” Cosby said.

The new law was opposed by the state district attorneys’ association. It contended the law would politicize the process by letting petitioners impose themselves on the grand jury.

Cosby said Howe hijacked the process the last time. His group’s petition also wants Howe investigated for contacting some of the witnesses Cosby wanted to testify before the last grand jury was even seated.

Howe has said he did not steer grand jurors in any direction. He could not be reached for comment late Monday.

To empanel a grand jury, someone must secure enough signatures equal to 2 percent of the votes cast in a county in the last gubernatorial election plus 100. In Johnson County, that means 3,771 signatures.

To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

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