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Former KS Attorney General Phill Kline Is Pilloried by the Kansas Supreme Court

We started the week in the midst of a shutdown of the federal government by the wingnuttiest members of the Republican party currently serving in the US Congress, under the threat of a financial panic if that same Congress did not allow the president to pay the bills that have accumulated via the actions of Congress (aka raise the debt ceiling), and wondering where all the adults have gone. We ended the week with the government temporarily returning to work, the debt ceiling propped up for another couple of months, the sequester still in place, and Chuck Todd explaining how John Boehner is stronger now than he was three weeks ago. (Earth to Chuck: You sound like a certain owner of a pet shop dealing with a customer dissatisfied with his recent purchase of a parrot. Let me channel my inner Python: Politically speaking, Boehner not stronger. He is not pining for the fjords. He is an ex-speaker. But I digress . . .)

How could anything top this?

Leave it to Kansas, where the cherry was put on the top of this political sundae of a week. As October snows hit the western part of the state, the Kansas State Supreme Court suspended the license to practice law in the state of Kansas of former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline:

In a unanimous decision released Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court said Kline engaged in unethical tactics and committed professional misconduct during his investigations into abortion providers. Its 154-page decision found that Kline committed 11 violations of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct during the time he held public offices as attorney general and Johnson County district attorney.

Kari Ann Rinker of RH Reality Check plumbed the depths of Kline’s behavior when the disciplinary panel ruled against him earlier, and the unanimous opinion of the court [pdf] on Kline’s appeal spells out their impression of Kline’s actions in all their ugly details. The violations included attaching sealed documents to public court filings, directing a lawyer to file a false motion in court, lying to various courts in written statements and oral testimony, failing to correct prior incorrect statements, concealing relevant information from a grand jury, and directing his staff to file motions to enforce a grand jury subpoena “against the express direction and wishes of the grand jury.” (pp. 134-135) Said the court at the top of the decision, “after reviewing each instance of misconduct found by the panel, we find clear and convincing evidence that Kline committed 11 KRPC [Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct] violations.” Clear and convincing: it wasn’t even close.

The only question remaining before the court was whether to suspend his license for a specific term, suspend it indefinitely, or disbar Kline completely as recommended by the disciplinary panel. After looking at the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, they suspended Kline’s license indefinitely, based largely on the ABA’s standards for discipline. Because the disciplinary panel did not meet or even address Kline’s “intent” as defined and required in the standards, the Supreme Court did not agree with the recommendation to disbar. Nevertheless, their words that indefinitely suspended his license made it abundantly clear what they think of the former attorney general and his conduct (p. 153):

We conclude indefinite suspension is the appropriate discipline. In arriving at this conclusion, we have considered all the aggravating and mitigating circumstances described above. But three of those aggravating circumstances compel our ultimate conclusion that indefinite suspension is the appropriate discipline: Kline’s selfish motive; his pattern of misconduct; and his refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of any of his misconduct.

We detailed above the multiple instances in which the evidence demonstrates Kline acted with a selfish motive, and we described the pattern of conduct that causes us great concern. But we have not yet commented on Kline’s refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct, and we briefly do so.

While Kline is certainly entitled to challenge each and every allegation made by the Disciplinary Administrator and to take exception to each and every negative finding made by the panel, his approach must be viewed from the strength of the evidence against him. The violations we have found are significant and numerous, and Kline’s inability or refusal to acknowledge or address their significance is particularly troubling in light of his service as the chief prosecuting attorney for this State and its most populous county.

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.

Emphasis added, to make clear just how brutal that last paragraph is.

The reaction of the Kansas anti-abortion crowd was completely predictable:

Leaders of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, a national anti-abortion nonprofit group, issued a statement defending Kline and blasting the court’s decision as “political appeasement.”

“What began as a political lynching has ended with a further travesty of justice,” Dana Cody, the group’s president and executive director, said in a news release. “This case had nothing to do with the fair application of the Rules of Professional Conduct and everything to do with being politically correct on the issue of abortion.”

Troy Newman, president of Kansas-based Operation Rescue, said Kline “certainly paid a heavy penalty for standing up to a corrupt administration that went to great lengths to insulate Kansas abortionists from being brought to justice.”

“The Sebelius-era vendetta against Kline for daring to uphold Kansas abortion and child sex abuse laws has finally extracted its pound of flesh,” Newman said in reference to former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. “Contrary to the court’s ruling, we know Kline to be a selfless man who has dedicated his life in the pursuit of justice. Sometimes, that honesty and integrity comes at a price.”

Right. Never mind all those pesky citations, references, and the voluminous mountains of evidence cited by the court.

The right wing in Kansas has already been up in arms about the courts overstepping their bounds, most recently over a lengthy series of cases regarding school funding. Last January, the courts found (again) that the legislature had not met its obligation to fund K-12 education according the the formula mandated by the state supreme court as it interpreted the constitutional mandate to educate the children of Kansas. Brownback and his minions were not pleased, and quickly pushed through revisions to how lower-level state judges are selected, giving the governor more power and eliminating the nominating committee that was perceived as dominated by lawyers, who are widely known to be nothing but far left-wing shills. They can’t do that with the supreme court without changing the state constitution — a much higher hurdle — but Brownback sure wants that to happen and this ruling will do nothing to slow down that fight. Meanwhile, expect election fights when these justices come up for retention when their terms expire.

Poor Phill Kline. Whatever will he do now?

Back in 2009, when things were falling apart for Kline and then-Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius was nominated to head up HHS, Jane Hamsher wrote “Kline is a cheap hustler and a publicity hound so it’s understandable that the forced birth crowd would revere him as a martyr.” Which brings us back to Cody’s language about “lynching” and Newman’s comments about a “vendetta” . . .

Indeed, when Kline saw things crashing down around him in the state of Kansas, his eyes — and feet — turned toward Mecca Virginia, where his martyr complex could be fed. He found a new job as a visiting professor of law, at the distinguished Liberty University (no doubt disappointing the folks at Regent U). Now he’s an assistant professor, and with yesterday’s unanimous court ruling in Kansas, they’ll probably give him a promotion.

Except . . .

Liberty is accredited by the ABA, under whose standards Kline has had his license suspended in a very public fashion. I suspect the ABA doesn’t look kindly on law schools that employ law professors who have been sanctioned like this. I wonder if Liberty will face a choice in the future between protecting their Martyr To Teh Cause or retaining their ABA accreditation.


h/t to Glenn Brunette for the photo (used under Creative Commons Generic 2.0 license) of the pillory at Colonial Williamsburg. Let the record show that it is just a couple of hours down the road from Liberty University . . .

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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