TIMELINE OF THE KLINE-TILLER CASE
2003 -- Attorney General Phill Kline asks Shawnee County District Judge Richard Anderson to issue subpoenas for medical records of 90 women and girls who have had abortions from clinics operated by George Tiller in Wichita and Planned Parenthood in Overland Park.
2004 -- Anderson issues the subpoenas. The clinics ask the Kansas Supreme Court to intervene. It does, sending the case back to Anderson and ordering him to be more stringent about protecting patients' privacy.
Kline says he needs information from the records -- but not the names of adult patients -- to investigate potential child rapes and possible violations of state abortion laws by the clinics. The clinics accuse Kline of being on a fishing expedition.
In October 2006, after a prolonged legal battle, the judge finally handed Kline the medical records he sought, after personally having redacted all information that could identify any individual patients. Shortly afterward, with Kline present as a guest on his television program, Bill O'Reilly revealed private medical information that he claimed came directly from those same supposedly secure records in Kline's personal custody. And Kline didn't even blink, let alone ask O'Reilly any questions about the source of that highly confidential information.
But Dr. Tiller had questions aplenty, and he wanted answers. Dr. Tiller's attorney remarked, "This has been our concern from the beginning, that if he ended up with these records, that just this type of event would occur. Our worst nightmare has happened. Women in America deserve better than this."
November 2006 -- Tiller asks the Kansas Supreme Court to investigate Kline and Fox television host Bill O'Reilly.
The Kansas Supreme Court later refuses to intervene on behalf of Tiller and the Planned Parenthood clinic, who had asked the court to appoint a special prosecutor and seize the records of the 90 patients.
And now, as December draws to a close, Kline's time is running short.
Time is working against Phill Kline as the Republican and passionately anti-abortion attorney general seeks to vindicate himself over activities that helped prompt Kansas voters to boot him from statewide office.
Kline has long been pursuing abortion clinics operated in Wichita by Dr. George Tiller and in Overland Park by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.
He and the clinics battled in court for more than two years over the records of 90 patients. While Kline obtained edited versions of those records in October, two weeks before the Nov. 7 general election, his pursuit of the documents was a key factor in his loss to Democrat Paul Morrison, as many voters appeared to agree with Morrison that it represented an invasion of patients' privacy.
After the election, filing a case against Tiller, based on evidence from those records, became an opportunity for Kline to tell Kansans he was right to pursue them.
On Jan. 8, when he leaves the attorney general's office, he will become Johnson County district attorney, giving him time to pursue Planned Parenthood. But he has only eight working days to get a criminal case against Tiller going.
And no one can say he isn't putting a rush on it.
Late Thursday, Kline and his top assistants traveled to Wichita, where Tiller's clinic is located, and filed 30 misdemeanor charges against Tiller, accusing him of performing illegal late-term abortions.
State District Court Judge Eric Yost issued a summons for Tiller to appear in court on Wednesday to answer the charges, which carry a penalty of up to one year in prison for each count.
By early Friday afternoon, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston stepped into the fray.
She asked State District Court Judge Paul Clark to dismiss the case because she said Kline had no authority to file the charges because he failed to consult with her office.
"The district attorney does in fact object to any such filing by the attorney general as he lacks the legal authority to file such complaint in this jurisdiction," Foulston said.
Clark agreed and dismissed the case.
By late Friday, Kline had dispatched an assistant by plane to find Clark to file an emergency motion for reconsideration.
What is the ostensible impetus for Kline's urgent need, in his last days as Attorney General, to press criminal charges against Dr. George Tiller? Why, it's that old legal bugaboo, "health of the woman." Health is what Kline says it is -- and as even a superficial acquaintance with his own actions over the past few years reveals, Phill Kline doesn't see mental dysfunction as a bar to competency in either daily life or public service.
In most of the abortions at issue, Tiller and a second doctor listed as justification for the abortion "major depressive disorder, "single episode," or "acute stress disorder," according to Kline.
Kline said those justifications don't fit the law's exemption that refers to "substantial and irreversible impairment to a major bodily function of the mother."
But Tiller's attorneys disputed Kline, saying, "A review of the charges makes clear that Phill Kline continues to belittle the role of a woman's mental health in her decision to terminate a pregnancy. Whether he likes it or not, the U.S. Supreme Court has held to the contrary," they said.
Kline responded, saying, "I would anticipate that any case like this is going to flush out a lot of constitutional issues."
Let us consider the constitutional issue of mental health, as the diagnosis and treatment of this type of illness are understood, taught and practiced by expertly qualified physicians across the nation -- practitioners with an infinitely more profound knowledge of its importance and ramifications than Kline could ever hope for.
Here's a comment that I received this week regarding the excuse for Kline's vendetta, written by a physician far more respected in the field of medicine than is Kline in the field of public service:
This guy needs a simple lesson I teach the students and residents all the time:
- Suicide is the #3 cause of mortality among 15-24 year olds,
- Major Depression is the most prevalent risk factor for suicide, therefore ...
- Major Depression is a potentially FATAL illness!
Doctors aren't the only ones disgusted with Phill Kline. The Lawrence Journal-World ran a blistering editorial on Christmas Eve.
Although only 35 percent of Johnson County voters supported Kline's bid to continue as attorney general, a slim majority of the county's Republican committeemen and committeewomen decided he was the best choice to fill the district attorney's seat.
Their selection of Kline, who has almost no experience as a prosecutor, over an 18-year veteran of the Johnson County DA's office led to speculation that committee members might be more interested in Kline's political agenda -- notably his vigorous opposition to abortion -- than in his prosecutorial skills. The vote seemed to nullify any discussion that the Johnson County Republican central committee was attempting to move to the philosophical middle and ease the polarization that has plagued its organization.
[T]he Kansas Government Ethics Commission said it would hold a public hearing on Kline's alleged misuse of state computers in his failed re-election campaign. Kline is accused of harvesting e-mail addresses of people who had contacted his office for assistance and using them to send messages to "expressly advocate" his re-election, according to the ethics commission notice. Kline could face a fine of up to $5,000 for the violations.
Kline was fined $1,500 by the commission in March after reporting that a consulting firm working for his campaign had unintentionally solicited contributions from lobbyists, which is illegal.
Ironically, even if Kline is found in violation of the most recent charge and fined the maximum of $5,000, a total of $6,500 in fines would have seemed inconsequential if it had bought him a victory. It's unfortunate that illegal practices that can have a significant impact on the outcome of a campaign don't warrant a more meaningful punishment.
Kline's intention to continue his activist agenda seemed to be confirmed by his filing Thursday of criminal charges against a Wichita doctor who performs abortions. Residents of Johnson County and the rest of the state can only hope that Kline will rise above his controversial reputation and serve with the professionalism that his new job demands.
And Kansas Governor Kathleen Silbelius has taken the unusual move of issuing an official public statement on Kline's irregular appointment as Johnson County's new District Attorney.
With the overwhelming election of Paul Morrison as Attorney General - an outcome even more pronounced in Johnson County - the people of Kansas made a strong and unequivocal statement about Phill Kline's fitness for law enforcement and his pursuit of misguided, personal priorities in public office.
Out of a deep and enduring respect for the will of the people, I cannot approve of Kline's appointment as Johnson County district attorney by a small, narrow group of partisan political operatives.
I do not believe such a clear majority of Kansans rejected Kline's stewardship as attorney general with the intention of seeing him continue a public career in law enforcement paid for by taxpayers.
Since Kansas law treats my response to this decision as purely "ceremonial," I join the people of Kansas in hoping he conducts himself differently as district attorney than he did in his term as attorney general.
But Kline isn't finished with being Attorney General just yet. On Wednesday morning he will have the chance to plead his case one last time.
A judge agreed Tuesday to let Kansas' attorney general, a vocal abortion opponent, try to persuade him to reinstate charges against a well-known abortion provider.
District Judge Paul W. Clark scheduled a hearing for Wednesday after Attorney General Phill Kline asked him to reconsider his decision to dismiss the case against Dr. George Tiller over a jurisdictional issue.
The judge said he would consider on Wednesday only whether a district court can limit a district attorney's power to dismiss a criminal case and, if there are circumstances allowing a court to intervene, whether they are present in Tiller's case.
"Tomorrow's hearing will tell if corrupt partisan politics will continue to interfere with justice," said Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.
Amen, Brother Newman, amen. At long last, there is one point upon which we agree. But corrupt partisan politics will always play a part in the legal process, for as long as the Operation Rescue "Man of the Year," Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, is on the case.
Do keep checking your watch, though, because time's a-wasting.