Thursday, November 20, 2008

10-year-old's abortion is center of Tiller hearing

The Wichita Eagle

A 10-year-old girl who received an abortion became the center of a Kansas attorney general's argument to obtain patient records from a Wichita clinic.

Here was a possible child-rape victim, officers for then-Attorney General Phill Kline told a Topeka judge in 2006 -- and a crime that abortion provider George Tiller didn't report, as required by law.

They wanted to find out whether Tiller hadn't reported other crimes, and they needed his records to do that.

But their claims about Tiller weren't true, his attorneys argued Wednesday in Wichita.

Tiller's lawyers are in Sedgwick County District Court this week arguing that 19 misdemeanor charges he faces should be dismissed. They contend the charges are based on evidence obtained by Kline and his officers through false pretenses and abuses of power.

The hearing is also making public for the first time details of a secret investigation conducted for three years by the state's top prosecutor against Kansas abortion providers.

The case of the 10-year-old girl who received a late-term abortion has become the center of Tiller's defense team's argument.

Documents produced by lawyer Dan Monnat showed:

The girl came with her mother from another state, carrying a letter from their local prosecutor's office. The letter said the girl needed "an immediate medical procedure that (could) only be done" at Tiller's Women's Health Care Services clinic.

The relative who raped her had already been charged.

Prosecutor Steve Maxwell and investigator Tom Williams would repeat the story of the girl's abortion, and Tiller's supposed failure to report it, to Shawnee County Judge Richard Anderson, court transcripts showed. But that was more than a year after they learned of the prosecution in the girl's home state.

Another document indicated Tiller had reported the girl's abortion to Kansas Child Protective Services. But Williams said that wasn't clear to him at the time.

"There was never any intentional misrepresentations made in this case," Williams testified. "It was very straightforward."

Williams also said that in more than two decades of work in law enforcement, he'd never been involved in an investigation that faced such legal scrutiny -- until he started asking for abortion records.

"Not even federal wiretaps," Williams told Assistant Attorney General Barry Disney on cross-examination. Williams had formerly worked for the U.S. Treasury Department.

Battle over records

The records request started a court battle that lasted a year and went all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court.

As the Supreme Court contemplated whether Kline should receive patient records, his top administrator appealed to other states.

Eric Rucker, Kline's chief of staff, testified that he wrote an e-mail to Ed Zielinski, general counsel for Texas-based anti-abortion group Life Dynamics, seeking help to get other attorneys general to request Kansas abortion records.

Rucker reasoned that if other states asked for the records, it would help influence Kansas' highest court.

Kline's office did get the records, weeks before he lost a re-election bid to Paul Morrison in 2006.

That December, before leaving office, Kline tried to file charges against Tiller in Sedgwick County. But a judge here dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds.

Johnson County Republicans appointed Kline to fill the district attorney's post vacated by Morrison.

Rucker testified that Kline then instructed him to have Williams and investigator Jared Reed move the abortion records out of the attorney general's office to his new office in Johnson County.

The way the investigation had been going made Reed nervous, however.

He testified Wednesday that rumors in Kline's new office indicated Morrison would investigate the abortion case for possible wrongdoing. Reed went to the new attorney general and offered to talk if he was offered immunity from prosecution.

"My personal opinion was they were willing to do whatever it takes to get a conviction against an abortion provider," Reed testified of his former colleagues, "up to and including breaking the law."

Maxwell is expected to testify today before Judge Clark Owens. Morrison, who filed the present charges before resigning amid a sex scandal, is also expected to take the stand.

Kline will get a chance to answer accusations over how he handled the investigations when he returns to court next week.

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