The Corner

News from Courts You’ve Never Heard Of

The long saga of Phill Kline versus Kansas’s anything-goes abortion providers took a bizarre turn this afternoon when the state supreme court issued a ruling attacking Kline in some of the harshest, most vitriolic language most of us will ever see in a high-court decision. If you’re wearing flame-retardant clothing, you can read it here.

But the odd part is, the ruling went in Kline’s favor.

The case involved Kline’s effort to enforce state abortion laws that prohibit late-term abortions unless certain requirements have been met. The courts in Kansas have resorted to secret hearings, sanctions, silencing judges, and everything else to keep state officials from being able to properly monitor the procedures done in the state’s abortion clinics. In Kansas, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Democrats who have followed Kline into the state AG’s office have been avidly pro-choice. PACs associated with George Tiller, the operator of Wichita’s biggest abortion clinic, have been very large donors to Sebelius and her allies.

In this case, Planned Parenthood had demanded a return of all clinic records (redacted to remove personally identifying information) that Kline collected during his investigation of the organization. With the consent of a district-court judge, he took the records, and the investigation, with him when he left the attorney general’s office to become the appointed DA of Johnson County in suburban Kansas City. The AG who replaced Kline, a Democrat named Paul Morrison, lasted a year or so in office before he was forced to resign in a sex scandal. He was replaced by a Sebelius appointee. After a terrible campaign by Kline to be retained, Johnson County voters elected a new DA last month.

After a long, drawn-out legal war, the demand by Planned Parenthood seems to have been unsuccessful. In the supreme court’s opinion, “the primary relief sought by CHPP and the attorney general has been denied.”

[Planned Parenthood] and the Attorney General are not entitled to the primary relief they seek. We will not force Kline to disgorge “each and every copy” of the patient records Kline and his subordinates have made ‘and any and all other evidence Kline developed and obtained while he was acting as Attorney General that he took with him to Johnson County.

Kline is however being made to give to the state attorney general’s office a set of the records in question. The court calls this a “sanction” so the local press, which despises Kline, are headlining the story “High Court sanctions Kline.”

The decision certainly reads like a defeat. It was written by a very angry Sebelius appointee named Carol Beier who was apparently fed up with the persistent efforts of Kline to prosecute the abortion providers. In Kansas, supreme-court justices are nominated behind closed doors by a committee dominated by lawyers. The committee gives three names to the governor and she picks the one she likes. There is no public scrutiny or hearings of any kind. It’s a crazy process that provides lots of crazy judges. Which is why you wind up with supreme-court justices who issue decisions in language like this:

Because Kline’s actions also seriously interfered with this court’s efforts to determine the facts and arrive at resolution, we also regard reimbursement of this court for the costs of this action in the amount of $50,000–i.e., the minimum personnel expense associated with filings, hearings, and conferences that could have been avoided if Kline’s conduct had been otherwise–to be an appropriate additional sanction. However, were we to impose this sanction, it would be borne by Johnson County rather than Kline personally. We are unwilling to make those taxpayers foot any further bill for the conduct of a district attorney they did not elect in the first place and have now shown the door.

Other justices, including the chief justice, sought to distance themselves from Beier’s rant. After all, none of them had been elected in the first place, either.

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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