Before a Sedgwick County judge swore in a grand jury Tuesday, both sides of the investigation into a Wichita abortion clinic cried foul.
Retired Judge Paul Buchanan declined to hear attempts by both sides to impede the process of empaneling a 15-member grand jury on a petition from abortion opponents to investigate the Women’s Health Care Services.
Kansans for Life and Operation Rescue are upset that the prosecutor in charge of guiding the grand jury works for Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston, a Democrat.
On Tuesday, they asked Buchanan to dismiss Foulston’s office and appoint special counsel.
Ann Swegle, a deputy district attorney under Foulston, is the prosecutor of record for the grand jury, according to the instructions given to the panel Tuesday.
Although grand jury investigations are closed, some of the filings, such as the instructions, are public.
Meanwhile, the attorneys for abortion provider George Tiller have filed repeated motions — from calling the grand jury “a witch hunt” to trying to prevent it from being empaneled.
Tiller is a doctor who performs late-term abortions. The anti-abortion groups want the grand jury to charge Tiller with violating state abortion laws.
Buchanan declined to hear arguments on the motions by either side, after Swegle pointed out that the law provides for no outside parties to make pleadings during a grand jury hearing.
Buchanan explained to jurors Tuesday that they, not the government, were in charge.
“You are not obliged to investigate any matter you choose not to investigate,” the jury’s instructions read.
The public has been able to petition to seat grand juries in Kansas since 1887. Prosecutors answer legal questions and help produce witnesses and evidence sought by the jurors.
That differs from federal law, under which prosecutors decide which cases to bring to a grand jury.
“State grand juries don’t need the signature of a prosecutor to file charges,” Buchanan told The Eagle.
The leader for Operation Rescue said he hoped for an aggressive prosecutor for this grand jury. That’s why Troy Newman said his group and Kansans for Life sought to disqualify Foulston’s office.
“We have a serious situation of the appearance of impropriety,” Newman said Tuesday.
Anti-abortion groups see Foulston as aligned with abortion rights supporters. Foulston has said the duty of her office is to follow the law.
Anti-abortion groups empaneled a grand jury in the spring of 2006 to look into the death of a woman who had visited Tiller’s clinic. The grand jury brought no charges in the woman’s death, echoing the findings of state medical authorities. The groups publicly blamed Swegle for not pushing the charges.
That fall, then-Attorney General Phill Kline tried to file criminal charges against Tiller in Wichita. Foulston pointed to a state law that said Kline needed her permission to file a case in her district. A district judge sided with Foulston and dismissed the charges.
“It’s all about abortion politics and abortion money,” Newman said. “The public has lost trust in this DA”
Tiller’s lawyers, meanwhile, said there would be no investigation without the push from the two anti-abortion groups.
“Hopefully the grand jurors will very quickly see that this proceeding is a political witch hunt brought by a few people who disagree with a woman’s constitutional right to choose, decide not to squander taxpayer money on it and go home,” said Wichita attorney Dan Monnat, who represents Tiller.
Grand juries may determine their own schedules but have 90 days in which to conduct their investigation. If they need more time, a judge has to approve it.
Tiller still faces 19 misdemeanor charges filed in June, accusing him of having an improper business relationship with another doctor who gave second opinions on late-term abortions at the clinic.
Both sides in that case are awaiting a judge’s ruling on a motion by Tiller to dismiss those charges.
Reach Ron Sylvester at 316-268-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All content © 2008 THE WICHITA EAGLE and may not be republished without permission.
By RON SYLVESTER