Johnson County’s top prosecutor acknowledged in court Wednesday that he’s facing a new problem in pursuing a criminal case against a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Kansas City area.
District Attorney Steve Howe said his office is trying to replace an expert witness retained to support 58 misdemeanor criminal charges alleging that the clinic in Overland Park performed illegal abortions in 2003. Howe said the witness, an out-of-state physician and medical school professor of obstetrics and gynecology, is too ill to serve as a witness.
It’s the latest twist in a criminal case filed in October 2007 by former district attorney Phill Kline. The case has been delayed in its early stages by contentious legal disputes between the district attorney’s office and the clinic’s attorneys, which have included two state Supreme Court rulings on pretrial issues.
Forty-nine other charges, including the most serious ones – felonies alleging that the clinic falsified records – were dismissed last year after Howe said key state records were missing. Planned Parenthood has said its clinic committed no wrongdoing and has asked District Judge Stephen Tatum to dismiss the remaining charges.
Tatum scheduled another pretrial hearing for Aug. 17. He also directed Howe to respond by then to various requests that Planned Parenthood attorneys filed with the judge in late March, including several that together seek the dismissal of the remaining criminal charges.
Defense attorney Pedro Irigonegaray expressed frustration that Howe hadn’t responded to Planned Parenthood’s court filings after three months and said an additional five weeks represents an unnecessary delay in ending the case.
“We believe it’s an unjust delay,” Irigonegaray said after the hearing.
Howe said the need to find a new expert made responding to Planned Parenthood’s court filings difficult. After Wednesday’s hearing, he declined to respond to Irigonegaray’s criticism.
The district attorney said his office didn’t confirm that the physician was too ill to serve as a witness until March, though Planned Parenthood attorneys and officials said they knew more than a year ago.
Planned Parenthood’s clinic is accused of violating a Kansas law that in 2003 restricted abortions at or after the 22nd week of pregnancy if a doctor determined the fetus was viable.
The remaining charges cover 29 abortions. For each, the clinic faces one misdemeanor count of not properly examining whether the fetus was viable and a second misdemeanor count of performing an illegal late-term abortion.