Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kansas Supreme Court hears dispute in abortion case

Associated Press

TOPEKA - The Kansas Supreme Court's ruling in a legal dispute over subpoenas could determine whether a criminal case against an abortion clinic goes forward, the prosecutor said Wednesday.

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe made his comment after the court heard arguments from one of Howe's assistants and an attorney for the clinic, operated by Planned Parenthood in Overland Park. The court did not say how quickly it would rule.

The dispute involves subpoenas issued by Phill Kline, Howe's predecessor as district attorney, to four potential witnesses over records sought for a hearing to determine whether the case goes to trial. The clinic faces 107 charges accusing it of falsifying records and performing illegal late-term abortions, which it denies.

Last year, a Johnson County district judge quashed the subpoenas and the district attorney's office appealed. The criminal case remains on hold.

Howe acknowledged that if the court rules against his office, it might not have enough evidence to go to trial.

As state attorney general, Kline began investigating abortion providers under the supervision of Shawnee County District Judge Richard Anderson. Eventually, Kline obtained access, through Anderson, to edited copies of records from patient files at Planned Parenthood's clinic.

Kline lost his 2006 bid for re-election as attorney general but became Johnson County's prosecutor immediately afterward. He continued his investigation of the clinic, using evidence that he had forwarded to Johnson County.

Assistant District Attorney Steven Obermeier told the court Wednesday that the allegations of falsifying documents involve discrepancies between reports filed by the clinic with the state and copies of the same records later provided to Anderson during Kline's investigation.

Even before Kline filed his criminal case in October 2007, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against him with the Supreme Court, hoping to force him to turn over his evidence to the attorney general's office.

While Planned Parenthood's lawsuit was pending, Kline subpoenaed Anderson, as well as an attorney appointed to review patient records and two state health officials with oversight of abortion reports.

The court told Anderson he couldn't testify, and that was one reason the judge presiding in the criminal case quashed the subpoenas.

The Supreme Court ruled on Planned Parenthood's lawsuit in December, declining to order Kline to turn over his evidence to the attorney general. Anderson's status as a witness -- and the four subpoenas -- remained in limbo.

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