Former Kansas AG Phill Kline Sues Judges Over His Suspension

Oct 19, 2015

Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline claims in a lawsuit that his suspension from the practice of law was invalid.
Credit State of Kansas official portrait

This story was updated at 2:12 p.m. to include the remarks of the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. 

Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline is suing the justices of the Kansas Supreme Court who suspended his law license two years ago, claiming numerous violations of his legal rights.

The 60-page lawsuit, filed in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, last week, alleges the court’s action was invalid because five of its seven sitting justices recused themselves and the court’s composition was invalid; the court acted arbitrarily; and the court improperly applied professional standards.

The Supreme Court indefinitely suspended Kline’s license after finding he had violated rules governing attorney conduct in connection with his long-running investigations of abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood in Overland Park, while serving as attorney general and later as Johnson County district attorney.

“Ultimately, we unanimously conclude the weight of the aggravating factors — i.e., Kline's inability or refusal to acknowledge the line between overzealous advocacy and operating within the bounds of the law and his professional obligations; his selfish motives; and his lengthy and substantial pattern of misconduct—weigh more heavily than the mitigating factors and merit his indefinite suspension,” the court stated in its October 2013 decision.

Kline’s lawsuit also names as a defendant Kansas Disciplinary Administrator Stan Hazlett, who recommended that Kline be disbarred.

A news release by Kline’s attorneys said they plan to hold a press conference at 2 p.m. Monday to discuss the lawsuit.

One of the attorneys, Thomas W. Condit of Cincinnati, was quoted in the release as saying that the disciplinary panel and justices who suspended Kline’s license “should be ashamed of their own lawlessness and the objective falsehoods in their own decisions.”

“Mr. Kline set out to protect young girls from sexual abuse and to enforce the abortion laws passed by the people of Kansas,” Condit’s statement reads. “What he encountered was the tentacles of the abortion industry, apparently touching and corrupting everything in its way.”

It’s not clear how Kline intends to press his lawsuit; judges enjoy judicial immunity that shields them from liability for the actions they’ve taken as judges.

Kline served as attorney general from 2003 to 2007. He was defeated in his bid for re-election by former Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison but essentially swapped places with Morrison when he was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Morrison’s election as attorney general.

Kline, an ardent abortion opponent, filed criminal misdemeanor charges against Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider who was later shot and killed while attending church.

Kline also brought a 107-count indictment against Planned Parenthood for failing to report pregnancies of underage girls. The case was later dismissed by Kline’s successor, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said that Kline "is a nationally recognized example of what happens when a public official abuses their power for a personal crusade."

"Kline sought and failed to end safe and legal abortion in Kansas through state-sanctioned harassment," she said. "During Kline’s crusade, he repeatedly violated the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, including rules that prohibit engaging in false or dishonest conduct." McQaude said Planned Parenthood was confident that "an impartial court will continue to protect Kansans from Kline’s continued unethical practice of law." 

In 2009, Kline became an assistant professor at the law school of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.