Former Kansas Attorney General and current Liberty University law professor Phill Kline is now indefinitely suspended from the practice of law due to his investigation of abortion clinics run by the late George Tiller and by Planned Parenthood. Tiller was murdered in 2009 while attending church in Wichita with his wife. While opting not to disbar Kline, the Kansas Supreme Court found “clear and convincing evidence” of professional misconduct (including the violation of 11 rules) to warrant indefinite suspension.
Kline must wait three years to re-apply for the right to practice.
The court cited three aggravating factors to support the indefinite suspension: selfish motive, a pattern of misconduct and a refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of any misconduct. However, the court also found mitigating factors like cooperation with the proceedings and a lack of prior discipline.
Kline quickly became a polarizing figures in Kansas in his pursuit of abortion providers and other priorities viewed as highly ideological. He accused Planned Parenthood and Tiller of violating state abortion law and covering for pedophiles by not reporting pregnancies of underage girls. He was accused not only by Tiller of abuse but by the forewoman of the grand jury. The complaint included allegations of misleading judges and mishandling evidence detailed in a 154-page report.
Kline’s policy with regard to any girls under 16 seeking an abortion was quite extreme — assuming all were injured victims requiring reporting and investigation. His successor narrowed that policy. He was also accused of failing to properly advise a grand jury about applicable law, giving false and misleading information to judges about the handling of patient medical records from abortion clinics and instructing his staff to attach sealed documents to a public filing in violation of a court order.
Kline was viewed as the hammer of the religious right in the state. This was evident in his defense of Kansas law which provided substantially higher punishments for homosexual statutory rape compared to heterosexual rapes. Amazingly, however, Kansas trial court upheld the law as did the Kansas Court of Appeals. The Kansas Supreme Court then declined to hear the case in a complete failure of the state court system in the case of Matthew Limon, a mentally ill man convicted under the law. The case was then remanded in light of the in Lawrence v. Texas, which held that a similar Texas law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Nevertheless, Kline’s office continued to fight for the law and again the court of appeals upheld the conviction. That is truly unbelievable. Finally, however, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 2005. Notably, such actions cannot be viewed as a disciplinary matter when so many judges signed off on upholding the law despite its clearly discriminatory impact on gays and lesbians. It is an indictment of the judicial branch of that state, particularly the opinion following the remand after Lawrence.
Liberty University is a Christian institution that teaches law from a religious perspective. His bio at the law school appears to both lament and celebrate his polarizing work on abortion. It notably does not mention the bar proceedings against him and has not been updated to note that, among his notable accomplishments, is the rare decision to indefinitely suspend him from the practice of law. The bio includes the following statement:
Aside from these accomplishments, almost all media attention regarding Kline has focused on abortion. His efforts have led the national abortion industry to pour millions of dollars into Kansas to attack and vilify him. Through it all, he continued to fight to enforce Kansas law and hold all accountable under the law. His leadership, as written by columnist Bob Novak, opened a new front on the abortion wars and placed Kansas in the epicenter of the current battle over the sanctity of human life.
His subjects include “Lawyering skills” which would seem a bit awkward given the report below.