TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Five of the seven justices of the Kansas Supreme Court have stepped aside from the attorney disciplinary case against former Attorney General Phill Kline.
The justices announced their decision Friday.
Kline's lawyer had asked that Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justice Carol Beier step aside because the defense perceives them as biased against the former attorney general. Three others recused themselves because they had heard earlier parts of the proceedings.
The allegations of ethics violation stem from an investigation of abortion providers that Kline began during his one term as attorney general. The state Board for Discipline of Attorneys said Kline repeatedly misled other officials or allowed subordinates to mislead others.
Five special judges will be appointed for the high court's hearing, which is not expected before this fall.
Complete news release from the Kansas Supreme Court:
Today (Friday) five of the seven justices of the Kansas Supreme Court voluntarily recused themselves from hearing a pending disciplinary case against former Attorney General and Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline.
The justices cited the Kansas Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 2.11, which requires recusal when a judge “previously presided as a judge over the matter in another court.”
The Supreme Court ordinarily reviews the decisions of lower courts and government agencies. When the behavior or statements of a lawyer appearing in these or other settings ultimately become the subject of a disciplinary panel’s scrutiny, the Supreme Court can review the panel’s fact findings and conclusions of law and any disciplinary recommendation without any direct knowledge of the behavior or statements.
This would not be possible for the five justices who recused today in Mr. Kline’s case. Certain of Mr. Kline’s alleged violations of ethics rules occurred either in the justices’ presence during an oral argument or in other proceedings that bypassed the lower courts and were filed directly with the Supreme Court.
These earlier cases included, on more than one occasion, claims that the Supreme Court should hold Mr. Kline in contempt of court. And three or more of the five justices, depending on the time period in which the claims arose, evaluated and disposed of the claims. In some instances, those evaluations plus the justices’ observations of Mr. Kline’s conduct in the cases and a related criminal matter compelled the Supreme Court to make referrals to the Disciplinary Administrator.
The five justices decided that the earlier performance of their required role as first fact finders on Mr. Kline’s behavior and statements prevented exercise of their later role as last reviewers of some of the same behavior and statements underlying the pending disciplinary case.
Justices Dan Biles and Nancy Moritz were not involved in any of the earlier cases involving Mr. Kline and will therefore continue to sit on his disciplinary case. Justice Biles will be the Presiding Justice. He and Justice Moritz will be joined by five other Kansas judges as the disciplinary case moves forward to final decision.