TOPEKA, Kan. – A special prosecutor who’s supposed to pursue criminal charges against the state’s most visible abortion provider sees the fuss surrounding his appointment by outgoing Attorney General Phill Kline as “political posturing.”
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an abortion rights Democrat, has jumped into the debate, chiding Kline, a Republican and strong abortion opponent, for his actions.
Her comments Thursday came the same day that Attorney General-elect Paul Morrison, another abortion rights Democrat who unseated Kline in the November general election, said he wouldn’t retain Wichita attorney Don McKinney as a special prosecutor to handle the case against Dr. George Tiller, also from Wichita.
McKinney said in a statement that he wouldn’t respond: “I don’t have time for political posturing. I have work to do.”
Kline alleges Tiller performed 15 illegal late-term abortions in 2003, for patients aged 10 to 22, and failed to properly report details about them to state health officials. Tiller’s attorneys call those allegations groundless.
Tiller has received national attention because he is among a few doctors in the United States to perform late-term abortions. His clinic has been the site of large protests, and it was bombed in 1985. A protester shot the doctor in both arms in 1993.
Kline filed 30 misdemeanor charges against the doctor last week in Sedgwick County District Court, only to see a district judge dismiss them over a jurisdiction issue, then refuse to reinstate them Wednesday.
McKinney was leader of a Democrats for Kline group, and he’s viewed as a strong abortion opponent.
Morrison said he’s not inclined to have a special prosecutor handle any investigation of Tiller, but if he decides to do so, “It certainly won’t be Mr. McKinney.”
“He is extraordinarily political and, in my opinion, would absolutely not present any kind of independent perspective,” Morrison said in a telephone interview.
Kline didn’t respond to Morrison’s comments.
Sebelius told reporters that Kline’s long-running investigation of Tiller now verges on the bizarre. Before Morrison takes office on Jan. 8, she said, “How messy can it get?”
“The story just continues to get stranger and stranger,” Sebelius said.
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansas for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, said she was shocked by how quickly Morrison declared that he wouldn’t retain McKinney.
“I’ve been disappointed by him a lot, but it’s especially disappointing that he would claim a fellow Democrat is unqualified because he happens to be pro-life,” Culp said. “Being pro-life should never disqualify you as an elected official from bringing charges that happen to deal with this issue. It can’t influence the credibility of the evidence. Evidence is evidence.”
And McKinney said in his statement that Kansas have enacted laws “to protect babies that are about to be born.”
“Those laws restrict the abortion of late-term babies to very specific medical circumstances,” he said. “Those laws need to be enforced and not winked at.”
But Tiller’s attorneys argue that Kline isn’t capable of fairly evaluating evidence involving Tiller, given his anti-abortion politics. One of them, Dan Monnat, of Wichita, called McKinney “a former Kline campaigner and anti-abortion activist.”
During the campaign, McKinney publicly criticized a newspaper when he thought it wasn’t being aggressive enough in pursuing 15-year-old, unproven allegations of sexual harassment against Morrison from a former employee. McKinney later said the allegations reflected on Morrison’s character, though two federal lawsuits filed by his accuser were dismissed and she received no money.
Campaign finance records show that funds from Tiller, passed through an abortion rights political action committee, helped finance at least $248,000 worth of mailings and radio ads aimed specifically at defeating Kline in 2002 and 2006. That has led abortion opponents to question whether Morrison will aggressively pursue evidence of wrongdoing by Tiller.
“I definitely question whether he can look at the evidence independently,” Culp said of Morrison.
There’s also a question of how much power McKinney would have, even if Morrison were to retain him, thanks to judicial decisions in Sedgwick County that have so far blocked Kline’s attempt to prosecute Tiller.
On Wednesday, for the second time in six days, District Judge Paul W. Clark ruled that Kline didn’t have the authority to file charges because Kansas law requires him to obtain the consent of District Attorney Nola Foulston, and Kline didn’t.
“It is not appropriate, to me, to have an attorney general who isn’t following Kansas law,” Sebelius said.
Abortion opponents accused Foulston, a Democrat, of trying to protect Tiller, but she said she was only protecting her right to decide what cases are prosecuted in Sedgwick County. In court, she objected to Kline appointing a special prosecutor and said that prosecutor wouldn’t be allowed to file charges, either.
All content © 2006 THE WICHITA EAGLE and may not be republished without permission.
By JOHN HANNA