Panel: Suspend ex-AG Kline's law license in Kansas

By JOHN HANNA | October 13, 2011 | 5:05 PM EDT

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A professional ethics panel recommended Thursday that former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline have his state law license suspended indefinitely over his conduct during criminal investigations of abortion providers.

A complaint alleged that Kline, a Republican abortion opponent, and his subordinates misled other officials and a Kansas City-area grand jury to further their investigations and mishandled abortion patients' private medical records. Kline has strongly disputed the allegations and called the complaint politically motivated.

The recommended sanction from a three-member panel of the state Board for Discipline of Attorneys reflects the board's belief that Kline repeatedly violated the state's rules for attorneys. But its 184-page ruling stopped just short of recommending that he lose his law license. The board said some allegations against Kline didn't represent violations of professional standards.

The Kansas Supreme Court, which already has criticized Kline's conduct in several opinions in abortion cases, will have the final say.

Kline was attorney general from 2003 to 2007. After losing his bid for re-election, he served as Johnson County district attorney for two years. His investigations of the late Dr. George Tiller, of Wichita, and a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park led to criminal charges being filed; Tiller eventually was acquitted, but the Planned Parenthood case still is pending.

Kline is now a visiting assistant law professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., founded by late evangelist the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

The Kansas complaint was brought to the board by the official who oversees investigations of misconduct complaints against attorneys, but Kline has long faced fierce criticism from abortion providers, abortion rights advocates, Democrats and even some fellow Republicans.

The allegation that the Johnson County district attorney's office misled a grand jury, empaneled in 2007 to review evidence against the Planned Parenthood clinic, came from the group's presiding juror.

Abortion opponents, however, have called the disciplinary process unfair.

As district attorney, Kline filed 107 criminal charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic in 2007, accusing it of performing illegal abortions and falsifying records. The clinic says the allegations are baseless, but a hearing to determine whether the case goes to trial — long delayed by legal disputes — is set for Oct. 24-26 in Johnson County District Court.

As attorney general, Kline pursued misdemeanor criminal charges against Tiller over late-term abortions performed by his clinic, but his case was dismissed for jurisdictional reasons.

Kline's successor as attorney general, a Democrat who supports abortion rights, filed other misdemeanor charges against the doctor. A Sedgwick County jury acquitted him in March 2009, two months before he was shot to death by man professing strong anti-abortion views.