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Kline testifies in ethics hearing, says his tactics were sound

TOPEKA | Phill Kline took the stand Monday to face allegations that he misled and defied judges, mishandled evidence and said too much to Bill O’Reilly throughout his long investigation of Kansas abortion clinics.

The former top prosecutor defiantly insisted that his tactics were sound and his cause just during his efforts to bring charges against Planned Parenthood and Wichita abortion provider George Tiller.

“These charges were supported and these charges need to be tried,” said Kline, a former Republican Attorney General and Johnson County District Attorney.

Stanton Hazlett, the state’s judicial disciplinary administrator, argues that Kline broke ethical rules for attorneys by going too far.

A three attorney panel sits in judgment. If the panel finds Kline in violation of ethical rules, it will be up to the Kansas Supreme Court to decide on any disciplinary action. Punishment could range from censure to disbarment.

Kline’s Kansas license is inactive; he now teaches law at Liberty University in Virginia. But disbarment could make it difficult for Kline to practice law in another state.

The ethical allegations against Kline include charges that he:

•Told the Supreme Court that his investigation wasn’t seeking identities of specific women who received abortions. But in 2005, investigators allege, Kline’s staff recorded the license plates of visitors to Tiller’s clinic and subpoenaed guests’ names from a hotel often used by patients.

•Ignored warnings by the court not to talk about the case by discussing it on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show.

•Mishandled redacted medical files by storing them in an open garage, a private vehicle and the dining room of an investigator. Kline took some copies of the Tiller records with him when he became district attorney.

•Selectively presented information to a Johnson County grand jury investigating Planned Parenthood.

•Relied on data that Kline’s staff knew to be flawed to justify the investigation before a judge and gave a state agency misleading information when seeking reports on sexual abuse.

The contentious politics of abortion permeated much of Kline’s testimony. Hazlett asked him at one point whether he would support banning abortions at any time during a woman’s pregnancy.

“I believe a wise decision for this nation would be to end abortion, yes,” Kline said.

Hazlett questioned Kline about a 2006 appearance on O’Reilly after showing the entire clip of the show. Kline, who was days away from losing his re-election bid, spoke to O’Reilly about his investigation of Tiller despite having been warned by the Supreme Court to avoid such publicity.

O’Reilly referred to Tiller as a “killer” and said he had “evidence” that Tiller was performing illegal abortions and covering for pedophiles that impregnate girls.

“Would you agree that for some people that could be inflammatory, could it not?” Hazlett asked Kline.

“The whole topic is inflammatory for whole groups of people,” Kline responded.

When asked why his investigator intentionally neglected to mention abortion when asking a state agency for its records, Kline said his staff was under no obligation to explain their motives to a source of information. Even, he said, in the case of another state agency which the Attorney General’s office represented in court.

After Hazlett asked him about that last point, Kline shot back: “Are you claiming a conflict? You know better than that.”

The agency in question was then under the administration of former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who supported abortion rights. Kline said he worried the agency might not provide the reports he wanted if it knew his true motives.

“The concern was that the Sebelius administration would not be forthright in the investigation,” he said. “The administration had an adverse position to this type of investigation.”

Kline’s investigation of Planned Parenthood and Tiller began shortly after he became attorney general in 2003 and continued when he became district attorney in 2007. Kline accused the abortion providers of violating state law and covering for pedophiles by not reporting pregnancies of underage girls. He sought medical records of former patients to prove his case. Before leaving office as district attorney, Kline filed 107 charges against Planned Parenthood. After a long delay, that case is now moving forward under current DA Steve Howe.

Kline’s testimony will continue today, when it’s likely his own attorney will get to question him. In his defense, Kline points to an internal report by Hazlett’s own investigators that seemed to clear Kline of wrongdoing. The 2008 report was prepared by a Topeka attorney tasked by the disciplinary administrator with reviewing the evidence against Kline.

“After reviewing the substantial documentation in this case, it is the opinion of these investigators that there is not probable cause to prove that Phill Kline violated any of the rules of ethics,” the report concluded.

Security for the proceedings is tight. Metal detectors and a police presence greeted the few members of the public and media who attended Monday’s hearing. No bags or laptops were allowed inside.

Most of the 17 public seats were taken up by Kline’s family and supporters. Some anti-abortion groups sent representatives, but no protests or rallies were held outside.

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