The Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Supreme Court justices on Thursday questioned how a prosecutor handled abortion patients’ records that were part of a criminal investigation.
Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri is trying to force Johnson County prosecutor Phill Kline to return patient files that are part of his case accusing an Overland Park clinic of performing illegal abortions and falsifying documents.
During a nearly two-hour hearing before the Supreme Court on Thursday, Kline and his attorney, Caleb Stegall, argued that the prosecutor’s office did nothing wrong.
Kline had access to the records as part of an investigation he undertook when he was attorney general. He transferred them to Johnson County as he left the attorney general’s office in January 2007.
However, Planned Parenthood Bob Eye told the justices that Kline didn’t have the right to the copies of 29 patient records and that patient privacy was violated when a former Kline investigator kept them at his apartment. Eye said unauthorized individuals could have read or altered the files.
“We will never know,” Eye said.
The justices questions touched on Eye’s concerns and compared the records to weapons or drugs seized during a crime.
“The handling of records is relevant. That’s exactly why we’re here for,” said Justice Carol Beier.
The justices gave no timetable for issuing a ruling. Their next scheduled decision date is June 27.
Stegall said Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit was merely an attempt to thwart Kline’s investigation, noting that Planned Parenthood has the support of Attorney General Steve Six, whose office called Kline’s handling of documents “appalling” in a court filing.
“They know there is no intention of prosecution in the attorney general’s office,” Stegall said.
Kline, an anti-abortion Republican, and Stegall argued that the law is unclear about the procedures for transferring evidence from one office to another, especially when the person sending is the same one who will receive the evidence. They maintain that law enforcement routinely shares evidence, while acknowledging that this situation was unusual.
“It would be myself talking with myself,” Kline said.
Michael Leitch of the attorney general’s office said that’s a not a proper transfer. “That’s a taking,” he added.
Kline said he tried to talk with then-District Attorney Paul Morrison, an abortion-rights Democrat who defeated Kline in November 2006, but the animosity between them prevented an amicable transfer of evidence to Johnson County.
Kline said that because he didn’t have a place to keep the records during the hours that he was between offices, he gave the records to one of his investigators, who has admitted that he kept them in a Rubbermaid storage box in his apartment.
Kline began his investigation of Planned Parenthood in 2003, when he was attorney general. Shawnee County District Judge Richard Anderson supervised those efforts and allowed witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed.
Eye said such handling of the records violated an earlier Supreme Court ruling ordering that the records be sent to Anderson. Kline then was given access to edited records, and Anderson has said repeatedly that he gave Kline permission to share copies of the records with other prosecutors.
In 2006, abortion rights advocates worked for Kline’s ouster, and he lost his race for re-election. But Republicans in Johnson County then picked him to fill a vacancy in the district attorney’s office.
As attorney general, Morrison cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing after reviewing the evidence, but Kline continued his own investigation and filed 107 charges against the Johnson County clinic.
The Associated Press