A special prosecutor appointed by outgoing Attorney General Phill Kline to pursue criminal charges against the state’s most visible abortion provider isn’t likely to last long in that job.
Attorney General-elect Paul Morrison said in a telephone interview today that he’s not inclined to have a special prosecutor handle any investigation into Dr. George Tiller, who operates a Wichita clinic and is one of the few doctors in the nation to perform late-term abortions.
Kline, a vocal abortion opponent, contends Tiller has performed illegal late-term abortions and filed charges against the doctor last week only to see them dismissed the next day by a district judge. On Wednesday, the judge refused to reinstate those charges, citing a jurisdiction issue.
While Morrison, who supports abortion rights, would not completely rule out having a special prosecutor, he added, “It certainly won’t be Mr. McKinney.”
Kline announced Wednesday that he had named Wichita attorney Don McKinney as special prosecutor, saying the appointment would remove Tiller’s case “from a highly charged political process.” Kline, a Republican, noted that McKinney, like Morrison, is a Democrat.
But McKinney was the leader of a Democrats for Kline group during Kline’s unsuccessful re-election campaign and is viewed as a strong anti-abortion activist.
Morrison said of McKinney: “He is extraordinarily political and, in my opinion, would absolutely not present any kind of independent perspective.”
Morrison takes office Jan. 8, having received 59 percent of the vote in the November general election against Kline, who was seeking a second term.
The attorney general-elect and his aides repeatedly have said Morrison will assess the evidence about Tiller before deciding whether to prosecute.
“I believe I was elected attorney general to use my judgment,” Morrison said Thursday. “I’m not in anybody’s camp on this deal, and I never have been.”
Kline alleges Tiller performed 15 illegal late-term abortions in 2003 on patients aged 10 to 22, improperly using their mental health concerns to justify the procedures. Kline also contends Tiller failed to properly report details of the abortions to the state Department of Health and Environment.
Tiller’s attorneys say the allegations are groundless.
In dismissing the 30 misdemeanor charges against Tiller and refusing to reinstate them, District Judge Paul W. Clark acted at the request of Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston, a Democrat. She argued successfully that Kline didn’t have the legal authority to file the charges because she has jurisdiction over prosecutions in the county, and Kline didn’t obtain her consent.
Kline said he would leave decisions about the case to McKinney. The special prosecutor wasn’t available for comment Thursday and didn’t immediately return a telephone message left at his office.
Cheryl Sullinger, a spokeswoman for the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, told The Wichita Eagle she has seen McKinney within the past year outside Tiller’s clinic “praying for the babies.”
“You don’t have to be neutral to do your job,” she told the newspaper.
He is the brother of House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, and Kline told reporters Wednesday that he hired Don McKinney because he is widely respected as an attorney.
But Dan Monnat, a Wichita attorney representing Tiller, said Thursday that the special prosecutor’s background shows Kline isn’t conducting a fair inquiry.
“I would say no effort was made to find an independent prosecutor,” Monnat said.
Tiller is among the few doctors in the nation who perform late-term abortions. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and a protester shot him in both arms eight years later.
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