The Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. — Attorney General Paul Morrison acknowledged Sunday having an extramarital affair with a former staffer who now accuses him of sexual harassment and attempting to influence a federal case involving a political opponent.
Morrison said many of the claims made by the woman, Linda Carter, are “patently false.” She filed a civil rights claim last month with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Carter detailed her allegations in a signed statement obtained by The Topeka Capital-Journal, which published a story about them and Morrison’s acknowledgment of the affair in its Sunday editions. Morrison’s office issued a separate statement Sunday.
Her allegations and Morrison’s acknowledgment of the affair stunned the state’s political system and cast a cloud over Morrison’s future. Before the affair became public, even some Republicans assumed Morrison wouldn’t face a serious challenge if he sought re-election in 2010.
“I think most people are probably still in shock. These are some astonishing allegations,” said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt. “Clearly, this will consume a great deal of time in the coming weeks and months, and it’s likely to impede the attorney general’s ability to advance an agenda in the Legislature.”
Carter is the former director of administration for the Johnson County district attorney’s office. Morrison was district attorney for 18 years before switching to the Democratic Party last year to successfully challenge GOP conservative Phill Kline for the attorney general’s job. Johnson County Republicans then picked Kline to take over Morrison’s old job.
During his successful campaign last year, Morrison faced allegations that he’d drunkenly propositioned another female employee in a bar in 1990. But two federal lawsuits arising from those claims were dismissed in 1992 and 1993, and the accusations backfired on Morrison’s opponents.
According to Carter, her affair with Morrison began in September 2005 and lasted for about two years, as Morrison ran for attorney general and after he took office. Her account said they had sexual encounters in the Johnson County Courthouse and hotels in several Kansas cities and three states.
She contends Morrison pressured her — unsuccessfully — to write letters for former employees who were dismissed by Kline after those employees filed a federal lawsuit. She also alleges Morrison sought sensitive information about Kline’s activities, including those related to abortion.
“Unfortunately, it is true, however, that I once had a consensual relationship with Mrs. Carter. And I profoundly regret that I did,” Morrison said in a statement. “Many of the details Mrs. Carter dished to the newspaper regarding the nature of our relationship are absolutely false.”
The Associated Press left a message Sunday at a telephone number in Roeland Park listed for Carter. Morrison declined to be interviewed through his spokeswoman, Ashley Anstaett, and asked in his statement for privacy as “I work through these painful issues.”
Morrison remains married, although Carter said Morrison contemplated divorcing his wife, Joyce, so that they could get married. Carter moved to an apartment in Lawrence in the midst of the affair. But later she returned to her Roeland Park home, the newspaper said, and online court records show no divorce filing.
Kline spokesman Brian Burgess declined to comment, saying it would be premature because, “The situation is still developing.”
“We are assessing the situation,” Burgess said.
Mary Kay Culp, the executive director of Kansans for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group and a frequent Morrison critic, said he should resign.
But others were more cautious. Schmidt, a Republican from Independence and an attorney, said there needs to be “credible, independent fact-finding,” though he said it’s too early to say who should conduct it.
“I don’t think anybody is well served by throwing around pronouncements lightly,” Schmidt said.
Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, also an attorney, said the most serious allegations involve Carter’s statements that Morrison tried to influence the ex-employees’ court case and sought inside information about Kline’s activities.
“I’m going to be cautious and not jump to any kind of conclusions here and call for any kind of particular answer,” Kinzer said.
In the final three weeks of an often bitter attorney general’s race, Kline made the early-1990s sexual harassment allegations against Morrison an issue.
The two candidates also argued publicly about Kline’s pursuit of records from abortion clinics as part of a criminal investigation.
Though he has pursued his own case, Morrison, an abortion rights supporter, criticized a case Kline, an abortion opponent, filed against abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, of Wichita. As district attorney, Kline has filed criminal charges against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, and Morrison has been critical.
Those disputes spilled into Morrison’s affair with Carter and caused tension in their relationship, according to Carter’s statement. Morrison also was upset that she continued to work for Kline, until she left the district attorney’s office at the end of November.
Carter said she also resisted Morrison’s suggestion that she write letters for the eight former employees dismissed by Kline. In August, a federal magistrate dismissed all but one of the counts in their lawsuit.
In his statement, Morrison said: “Any allegation that I used the relationship to influence litigation is absolutely false. The only people attempting to use this painful and personal information for their own benefit are Mrs. Carter and her boss, Phill Kline.”
Carter said in her statement that she and Morrison first had sex in a vacant courthouse office and then had encounters in each others’ courthouse offices during business hours. They also met in hotel rooms in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and New York, according to her statement.
According to Carter, Morrison promised to divorce his wife but decided against it early in 2007, then sought to renew the affair.
Morrison said in his statement, “My actions caused pain and sadness to many people I love. I have been working for the past year to repair the damage this relationship caused to others.”
He added: “I sincerely apologize for this failing in my personal life and I pledge to continue to fight for the safety and security of Kansans to the best of my ability. I will continue to defend the people of this state and perform my public duties as I have my entire career.”
But Culp said the attorney general’s actions show such a “profound lack of judgment and honesty” that he should give up the office.
The Associated Press
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