The Corner

Kline and the Judicial Kangaroos in Kansas

Carol Beier, a liberal extremist appointed by former governor Kathleen Sebelius to a seat on the Kansas Supreme Court, must have worn a double-wide smirk today when she read the Reuters account of the latest development in her slow destruction of Phill Kline:

A disciplinary panel on Thursday found “ethical misconduct” in the way a former attorney general of Kansas prosecuted abortion providers and it recommended his law license be suspended indefinitely.

Phill Kline, now a law professor at Liberty University in Virginia, was faulted in a 185-page report for his actions both as state attorney general from 2003 to 2007 and later as district attorney in Johnson County, Kansas.

Kline earned the passionate ire of Beier — and Sebelius and Kansas’s so-called “moderate” establishment — because he dared to enforce the abortion statutes in a state where the abortion industry wields enormous political power. This pitted him against Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers in a pursuit that was authorized by lower courts and found to be consistent with the law. The effort occupied a decade of his life and left him a political outcast deep in debt from trying to defend himself against the state’s most powerful interests — especially the Kansas Supreme Court. This weird story is told here, with a fairly complete sidebar here.

Kline was not a popular figure, even among some conservatives. But he had the law and common sense on his side, as the state’s high court was forced to recognize unanimously in an eccentric decision written by Beier on Dec. 5, 2008. Her vindication of Kline’s legal efforts came wrapped in a vitriolic, amateurish rant that was so embarrassing and articulated with such petty viciousness that the chief justice appended a note to the decision distancing herself from Beier’s outburst, noting that even though the court had ruled in Kline’s favor:

The majority is more interested in reprimanding Kline for his attitude and behavior in the course of this litigation than in remediating the failure to leave a complete set of the investigation records for the incoming Attorney General. It appears to me that the majority invokes our extraordinary inherent power to sanction simply to provide a platform from which it can denigrate Kline for actions that it cannot find to have been in violation of any law and to heap scorn upon him for his attitude and behavior that does not rise to the level of contempt. This is the very antithesis of “restraint and discretion” and is not an appropriate exercise of our inherent power.

“Restraint and discretion” are not qualities associated with Beier. Her interest was in destroying Kline, something she threatened in her decision:

Further instances of Kline’s improper conduct or the improper conduct of subordinates for whom he bears responsibility may yet come to light. Such actions, standing alone or when considered alongside Kline’s or others’ conduct . . . in this case may merit civil or criminal contempt, discipline up to and including disbarment, or other sanctions. Furthermore, the known pattern of obstructive behavior prompting sanctions, standing alone, may be or become the subject of disciplinary or other actions; a copy of this opinion will be forwarded to the disciplinary administrator.

Which brings us to the decision reported by Reuters.

In Kansas, the disciplinary board is appointed by Beier and the other members of Kansas’s tarnished supreme court (the current chief justice, Lawton Nuss, became the first justice to be formally admonished by the state’s Commission on Judicial Qualifications after he was caught discussing a pending school-funding case with two sympathetic lawmakers). What happens next? According to Reuters:

The recommendation of the Kansas Board of Discipline for Attorneys that Kline be suspended now goes to the Kansas Supreme Court for a final decision.

This is marsupial justice at its worst. Beier is just part of the judicial residue left from Sebelius’s reign — the majority of the supreme court’s justices are there because she appointed them. The voters of Kansas had a chance to unseat Beier in a retention vote last year. But, as I reported a while ago, the state’s conservatives didn’t think there was a point in trying to oust her. They have a point; nobody gets unseated in these retention votes — voters can’t be bothered.

This part of Kline’s story doesn’t have anything to do with abortion. It has to do with personal politics. So Beier’s vendetta will succeed, Kline will be professionally destroyed, and the citizens of Kansas will finally have an answer the next time somebody asks, “What’s the matter with you people?”

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...


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