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DA faces ethics complaint over Kan. abortion case

Published on -9/4/2012, 1:27 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- An anti-abortion group filed an ethics complaint Tuesday accusing Johnson County's district attorney of lying to a judge about the fate of records from an investigation into Planned Parenthood.

Operation Rescue filed the complaint with the Office the Disciplinary Administrator, the board responsible investigating cases of attorney misconduct. It alleges District Attorney Steve Howe lied in court about the destruction of the records obtained in the investigation.

The clinic was charged with falsifying documents and performing illegal late-term abortions. Howe asked a judge in November 2011 to drop 49 of the original 107 charges, including the felonies, filed against Planned Parenthood in 2007. The last of the charges were dropped in August.

Cheryl Sullenger, policy adviser for Operation Rescue, said Howe lied when he told a district court judge that the "last complete copies" of the abortion records were destroyed by the attorney general's office.

Sullenger said that was false and that Operation Rescue had proof from a Shawnee County judge that copies still existed.

"This is not just abortion. It's about whether you can expect justice in Johnson County when the district attorney is willing to lie to judges," she said. "We did our homework more than Steve Howe did on this case."

Howe didn't immediately return messages left Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Operation Rescue has called for Howe and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to resign for the handling of the Planned Parenthood case. Sullenger said the group planned to file an ethics complaint against Schmidt in the coming days.

"This is just the first round," she said.

Planned Parenthood strongly disputed the 107 charges, including 23 felonies. The charges were filed in October 2007 by then-District Attorney Phill Kline, who also faces ethics charges related to the investigation and handling of records.

Ron Keefover, spokesman for the Kansas judicial branch, said all matters filed with Office of Disciplinary Administrator remain confidential unless a probable cause finding is made by a review committee.

The Johnson County abortion investigation began when Kline served as attorney general in 2003. He lost his re-election in 2006 but served as Johnson county district attorney from 2007 through 2008, allowing him to file charges against Planned Parenthood. The case never made it to trial, though there were multiple legal disputes and Kansas Supreme Court rulings.

The most serious charges alleged that the clinic failed to maintain records on individual abortions performed in 2003, as required by law, then fabricated a set when ordered to produce them in 2006 for Shawnee County District Judge Richard Anderson. He was supervising the investigation of abortion providers by Kline.

The clinic said no wrongdoing occurred, but a trial likely would have included a comparison of what the clinic produced for Anderson with copies of the reports submitted to the state in 2003.

Various copies of the reports existed, but Howe contends he didn't have clean, complete copies of what the clinic submitted to the state in 2003. He largely escaped criticism from abortion opponents in November after he said in court that the set of copies he could have used was "destroyed" by the attorney general's office in April 2009, under Steve Six, an abortion-rights Democrat.

An external investigation later concluded that the attorney general's office didn't destroy any documents involving the Planned Parenthood case.

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Online:

Kansas Judicial Branch: http://www.kscourts.org

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