Judge Dismisses Charges Against Kansas Planned Parenthood After State Officials Destroy Evidence

A judge Wednesday dismissed the most serious
charges against a Kansas City-area Planned Parenthood clinic accused of
falsifying records and failing to follow abortion law after a
prosecutor revealed that state officials had destroyed key evidence.


Johnson County
District Attorney Steve Howe told the judge he had no choice but to ask
that 49 of 107 charges against the clinic be dismissed because documents
central to the case were destroyed.

Meanwhile,
authorities in the state capital of Topeka, at the request of Attorney
General Derek Schmidt, plan to investigate the records shredding to
determine if any laws were broken. The documents were reports on
individual abortions performed in 2003, filed by Planned Parenthood’s
clinic in Overland Park with the state health department, as required by
law, and copies held by the attorney general’s office under Schmidt’s
predecessors.

District Judge Stephen Tatum
dismissed 23 felony counts of falsifying such reports, as well as 26
misdemeanor charges that the clinic had failed to maintain its own
copies, as required by law. Prosecutors wanted to compare in court
copies of the documents the state had with those Planned Parenthood
produced later when the clinic was under investigation. Prosecutors
allege the documents didn’t match, suggesting the clinic didn’t keep
proper records and created false ones when compelled to produce them.

Fifty-eight
misdemeanor charges remain, accusing the clinic of performing illegal
abortions and failing to follow a state law restricting late-term
abortions.

The case stems from an
investigation by Phill Kline, a Republican abortion opponent, focusing
on abortion clinics when he was Kansas attorney general and later as
Johnson County district attorney.

A Planned
Parenthood attorney said the charges always were baseless and blamed the
problem with the records on Kline, who filed the criminal case in 2007.

Howe
disclosed last month that the health department had shredded its copies
of the reports in 2005, in what Planned Parenthood described as a
routine destruction of documents. Howe said in court Wednesday that the
attorney general’s office, under Democrat Steve Six, also destroyed its
copies in April 2009 – 18 months after the criminal charges were filed
in Johnson County.

The district attorney said
his office has partial copies of the same records, but they haven’t been
declared authentic in the court record, and he can’t establish a proper
chain of custody.

“The legal hurdles are insurmountable,” Howe told Tatum.

The
dismissed charges alleged that Planned Parenthood had failed to
maintain its copies of the reports, then produced falsified versions
when compelled to do so in 2006 by a judge during an ongoing
investigation of abortion providers by the attorney general’s office.

Planned
Parenthood attorney Pedro Irigonegaray said in court that the clinic’s
set of reports didn’t match the health department’s set exactly because
clinic employees made hand copies, not photocopies. The information
contained in each set was the same, he said.

The
health department shredded its copies during the administration of Gov.
Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who supports abortion rights and who
later became U.S. secretary of health and human services.

Six,
appointed by Sebelius in 2008 to fill a vacancy in the attorney
general’s office, also supports abortion rights. Earlier this year,
President Barack Obama nominated Six for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals, but opposition from both abortion opponents and Kansas’ two GOP
senators prevented a vote and kept him off the bench.

Shawnee
County Sheriff Richard Barta confirmed he is investigating the records
destruction at the request of Schmidt, a Republican who defeated Six
last year.

Schmidt declined to comment but
wrote in a letter to Barta that without an investigation, he couldn’t
determine whether the attorney general’s office under Six had followed
state law or its own records-destruction policies in shredding its
copies of the abortion reports.

Sebelius spokesman Richard Sorian said Wednesday that Sebelius “has no knowledge of the matter” and declined to comment further.

Six did not return telephone messages to the Kansas City, Mo., law office where he is a partner.

Irigonegaray
blamed the “legal fiasco” that led to the dismissal of the charges on
Kline. The attorney general’s office under Kline had obtained copies of
the full reports from the health department in 2004, Irigonegaray said,
but the agency never declared their authenticity – and now can’t with
its set destroyed.

“Competent lawyers know the importance of obtaining authenticated copies,” Irigonegaray said in court.

Kline,
who was attorney general from 2003 to 2007, lost his bid for
re-election in 2006 and served as Johnson County district attorney from
2007 to 2009.

Kline said in a telephone
interview that the criminal case “was defeated” by the actions of
others, including Sebelius and Democrats who succeeded him as attorney
general.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” he said.

A hearing on the remaining charges against Planned Parenthood is set for February.

Source: John Hanna, The Associated Press

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s