In a unanimous decision released today, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered Phillip D. Kline, former Kansas attorney general and former Johnson County district attorney, indefinitely suspended from the practice of law in the state of Kansas.
The court's 154-page decision found clear and convincing evidence to conclude Kline committed 11 violations of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct during the time he held those public offices.
In determining the appropriate discipline, the Supreme Court said it considered the facts and circumstances of each violation; the ethical duties violated by Kline to the public, the legal system, and the legal profession; the knowing nature of his misconduct; the injury resulting from that misconduct; the aggravating and mitigating factors argued; and the American Bar Association's advisory standards for imposing discipline. The Disciplinary Administrator's Office, which prosecutes allegations of attorney misconduct, argued for Kline's disbarment.
The court found Kline committed professional misconduct as attorney general when he ordered staff members to attach sealed documents to a publicly filed brief in violation of a Supreme Court protective order, and later directed his staff to file a pleading with the court containing misleading information.
The court also found that while Kline was Johnson County district attorney, he gave false testimony to a district court judge investigating his office's possession of patient medical records obtained in a criminal investigation of abortion providers and made false and misleading statements to the Supreme Court regarding his handling of those records.
It also determined Kline failed to properly advise a grand jury about the applicable law in its investigation into statutorily mandated reporting by abortion providers for suspected sexual abuse of minors, and filed unauthorized motions to enforce the grand jury's subpoena to an abortion provider against the grand jury's express direction and wishes.
Finally, the court held that Kline failed to correct a misstatement he made in a letter to the Disciplinary Administrator's Office regarding the storage of patient medical files subject to a court protective order.
In making those findings of misconduct, the Supreme Court rejected additional claims that Kline violated professional rules of conduct, including allegations that he misled a state agency about his criminal investigation of abortion providers, falsely testified that he was not seeking the identities of adult abortion patients, and made statements inappropriate for a criminal prosecutor during a November 2006 televised interview on "The O'Reilly Factor."
Under Supreme Court rules, Kline must wait at least three years to apply for reinstatement of his license to practice law in Kansas. Any application for reinstatement initiates a review by the Supreme Court, which can then order the Disciplinary Administrator's Office and a panel of the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys to investigate and make recommendations. The court may accept or reject those recommendations.
The formal disciplinary process against Kline began with a complaint filed on Jan. 14, 2010. Those proceedings culminated in 12 days of evidentiary hearings in February, March, and July 2011 by a three-member panel of attorneys appointed by the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys. That panel released a 185-page report on Oct. 12, 2011, finding multiple incidents of misconduct by Kline and recommending indefinite suspension of Kline's license to practice law in Kansas. On Dec. 22, 2011, Kline filed a 175-page objection to the hearing panel's report, which triggered Supreme Court review.
In an order effective May 18, 2012, five members of the Kansas Supreme Court recused from hearing the disciplinary action against Kline: Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, and Justices Marla Luckert, Carol Beier, Eric Rosen and Lee Johnson. On June 4, 2012, Presiding Justice Dan Biles appointed two Kansas Court of Appeals judges: Henry W. Green Jr. and Karen M. Arnold-Burger; and three district court judges: Edward E. Bouker, Bruce T. Gatterman, and Michael J. Malone. Justice Nancy Moritz also heard the case.
The full text of the decision may be found at: