The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday ordered a former state attorney general to turn over copies of abortion patients' medical records to his former office and suggested the abortion-rights foe should be disciplined for his conduct surrounding the documents.
But the court allowed Phill Kline, a Republican who's now a local prosecutor pursuing a case against Planned Parenthood's clinic in Overland Park, to retain some of the material.
Kline obtained copies of the patient records while serving as Kansas attorney general in 2003-07. After he lost his bid for re-election in 2006, he was appointed Johnson County district attorney.
Before he gave up the state job, he transferred copies of the medical records to Johnson County. Then, as county prosecutor, he filed 107 criminal charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic, alleging it falsified documents and performed illegal late-term abortions.
The clinic denies the allegations and questioned Kline's right as a county prosecutor to keep the records. It asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
The court ordered Kline to deliver a full set of the medical records and other material he gathered as district attorney to state Attorney General Steve Six by 5 p.m. Dec. 12.
The effects of the order on Kline's prosecution of Planned Parenthood weren't certain because the court declined to order Kline to turn over "each and every copy" of all the materials he's gathered, just a "a full and complete and understandable set."
The court rejected the clinic's request to hold Kline in contempt but criticized "an obvious and sorry" pattern of behavior in his handling of the records and his dealings with the court as it reviewed Planned Parenthood's request. The court's majority said it is forwarding its ruling to the state official in charge of handling disciplinary cases against attorneys because Kline's conduct may merit sanctions, including the loss of his law license.
"Kline exhibits little, if any, respect for the authority of this court or for his responsibility to it and to the rule of law it husbands," Justice Carol Beier wrote for the majority. "His attitude and behavior are inexcusable, particularly for someone who purports to be a professional prosecutor."
The seven-member court unanimously ordered Kline to turn over the documents, but only five of the justices said the order should be considered a sanction.
Kline will leave office as Johnson County DA in January; he lost his bid for a full term in the Republican primary.
Kline declined to comment on the ruling, saying he was still studying it.