Extremism Expunged: In Kansas, A Religious Right Hero Gets His Comeuppance

Once in office, Phill Kline decided not to represent the people of Kansas and instead focused time, energy and public dollars on a religiously tinged crusade.

At the Religious Right’s recent Values Voter Summit, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange talked about how far-right attorneys general can undermine progressive policies in the states and promote extreme conservatism.

Strange might want to consult with a guy name Phill Kline before going too far with that.

Kline was Kansas’ attorney general from 2003-2007 and later district attorney in Johnson County. An extreme fundamentalist, he decided to spend much of his time harassing abortion providers.

It became an obsession with Kline. His office filed dozens of charges against Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita doctor who provided abortions.

Planned Parenthood charged that Kline’s actions were part of a deliberate harassment campaign to drive the group from the state, and it sure looks like they were right: All of Kline’s phony charges were eventually dismissed.

Tiller met a much more unpleasant fate. As many of you may recall, he was assassinated by an anti-abortion activist named Scott Roeder on May 31, 2009, while attending a church service.

Some of the people targeted by Kline decided to fight back and filed complaints against him. This led to an official investigation of his conduct. On Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court, citing, “clear and convincing evidence of professional misconduct,” indefinitely suspended Kline’s law license. He will be ineligible to practice law for at least three years, which is the earliest he can apply to get it back.

The Kansas City Star reported that the state high court, ruling unanimously, found that Kline violated 11 rules governing the professional conduct of attorneys while he was state attorney general and during his Johnson County tenure.

Some of the allegations against Kline were shocking. During his efforts to shut down Planned Parenthood, Kline went on a fishing expedition and demanded confidential records for some of the patients clinics had seen. Questioned about these records by a judge, Kline insisted they were under “lock and key.” In fact, at least some of the records were stored in a box that was kept in the apartment of one of Kline’s staff members.

Yael T. Abouhalkah, a columnist at the Star, noted that the oversight board that investigated Kline pointed out that Kline “at various times misled a grand jury, relied on information his staff knew to be flawed and violated the public trust. Most damning, the panel said, Kline violated ‘the rules that prohibit engaging in false or dishonest conduct.’”

You might wonder what Kline is going to do now. Well, he already has another job. For the past few years, he has been serving as an assistant professor of law at Liberty University School of Law, which is part of the Falwell empire in Lynchburg, Va.

Officials at the school say they have no plans to remove Kline from the faculty roster. That’s right – a man who has been suspended from practicing law by the highest court in his state is, in the eyes of Liberty, still qualified to teach law.

Kline’s sorry saga is a stark reminder of the dangers of entrusting religious zealots with public office. Once in office, Kline decided not to represent the people of Kansas and instead focused time, energy and public dollars on a religiously tinged crusade. That’s probably why voters sent him packing after one term.

Kline and Liberty Law School deserve one another – although I feel sorry for anyone foolish enough to enroll in a school with standards that low.