The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday suspended "indefinitely" the law license of former state Attorney General Phill Kline for ethics violations for his aggressive efforts to investigate criminal wrongdoing at the state's abortion clinics.
The ruling did not include disbarment and permits Mr. Kline to reapply for his license after three years. Pro-choice groups hailed the hearing, but pro-life groups said the move could serve to intimidate those who investigate legitimate reports of abuse at abortion clinics.
The ruling is the latest chapter in a decadelong battle over Mr. Kline's efforts to investigate criminal activity in Kansas abortion clinics. The cases have been dropped, and Mr. Kline, who is no longer an elected official in Kansas, now teaches law at Liberty University in Virginia.
In its lengthy ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court said Mr. Kline committed 11 ethics violations stemming from his 2003 to 2008 probes of abortion clinics.
"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," the court said.
Thomas Condit, Mr. Kline's attorney, said Friday that his client never intentionally lied or misled others in pursuit of his case. He said he and Mr. Kline were reviewing the ruling and considering their next steps.
Pro-life advocates decried the ruling, saying influences from former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a pro-choice supporter who is now secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, were still in play.
"The Sebelius-era vendetta against Kline for daring to uphold Kansas abortion and child sex-abuse laws has finally extracted its pound of flesh," said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue in Kansas.
Because of bias against Mr. Kline, "five justices — under pressure — recused themselves from hearing Kline's ethics case," Operation Rescue said.
State disciplinary board officials asked the high court to suspend Mr. Kline's law license — and even disbar him. Indefinite suspension is the step short of disbarment.
One of the clinics investigated by Mr. Kline was run by the late Dr. George Tiller, who was nationally known as one of the few doctors who would perform late-term abortions. Tiller was gunned down in church in 2009 by a pro-life activist; the activist is serving a life sentence in prison.
The Kansas Supreme Court said in its ruling that Mr. Kline violated rules of professional conduct when he appeared on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" just before the November 2006 election to discuss his investigation of Tiller.
Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, another Kline target, said the ruling validated the group's position that the former state attorney general was on a "politically motivated witch hunt" when he went after abortion providers.
Mr. Kline at one point had filed 30 criminal charges against Tiller in Wichita and 107 criminal charges against Planned Parenthood in Overland Park. The charges — now dropped — involved such things as performing illegal late-term abortions, failing to determine a fetus' viability before an abortion, failing to maintain records and submitting false information.
"It was an excellent example of him using any means to justify the ends in his mind," Mr. Brownlie told The Associated Press. "It should give persons, in elected office or not, pause about using such unethical tactics."
Kansas, which now has a Republican governor and majority-Republican Legislature, has passed several strong laws against abortion, said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life.
But Mr. Kline's case likely will be used "as an example to others to not enforce those laws," she said Friday.
Pro-life advocates noted that during one of Mr. Kline's court hearings, a law clerk tweeted that he was a "douchebag." The clerk was fired, but the act showed the level of hostility aimed at anyone who tried to investigate abortion clinics in Kansas, the groups said.
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