Sparks Fly

The Strip is worried that Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline might be feeling a burning sensation, but not in his pants. We think it might be his pants. After all, the Strip knows what they say about liars, and it’s afraid that Kline might want to take note, lest he feel the fire.

Earlier this month, Kline’s infamous quest to lay eyes on 90 women’s medical records moved before the Kansas Supreme Court. Kline has said that he’s seeking the records so he can hunt down “child predators” and make sure that clinics aren’t performing illegal late-term abortions. Kline was conspicuously absent from oral arguments, so his top deputy, Eric Rucker, stood up before the Supremes in Topeka.

Justice Carol Beier grilled Rucker about whether his boss had subpoenaed records from “mandatory reporters” other than abortion clinics — such as hospitals, medical centers or other facilities required to report any suspicion that a child has been physically, emotionally or sexually abused or neglected. More specifically, Beier wanted to know whether Kline’s crusade was limited to seeking information about young girls who have had abortions, or whether he was seeking medical records for young girls who had given birth.

Beier was relentless, not unlike the flies that are always buzzing this slab of meat’s tail on a hot summer day. “How about teachers?” she asked. “How about all the other mandatory reporters under the statute? Have you subpoenaed any of these other people or entities?”

Rucker stalled, but Beier pushed on. “Have you or have you not? … Yes or no, sir?”

Rucker gave a nonanswer answer: “Within the body of this current inquisition, I can indicate to the court without reservation that we have looked into live births.”

Beier wasn’t satisfied. “Have you subpoenaed entities who are mandatory reporters, like the abortion clinics that you have subpoenaed in this inquisition?”

“At this juncture, the answer is no,” Rucker conceded. “But I do wish to indicate to the court that we are investigating. This investigation is not at a conclusion. And it has not been limited to abortions.”

That made this sirloin suspect that Kline’s pants might soon be sizzlin’.

Not long ago, Kline appeared on PBS’ Now, the documentary-style news magazine formerly helmed by Bill Moyers. Interviewer David Brancaccio quizzed Kansas’ curious crusader on his clandestine query. Kline gave his usual spiel about protecting kids, hunting child rapists and proving that two abortion clinics (Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri and Dr. George Tiller’s Wichita clinic) performed illegal late-term abortions. But Brancaccio threw Kline a curve: Why wasn’t the attorney general seeking medical records for 12- and 13-year-olds who’ve given birth?

“You assume we haven’t,” Kline shot back.

“Well, have you done that?” Brancaccio volleyed.

“Yes, certainly, we look at all instances of child exploitation,” Kline shot back.

But Now reporters went on to survey hospitals near Planned Parenthood’s Overland Park offices and said that none had been subpoenaed.

So who was telling the truth? Kline, when he suggested that he was looking everywhere in the state of Kansas to root out child molesters? Or Rucker, when he told Judge Beier that the investigation hadn’t yet considered other mandatory reporters?

Obviously, we’ll all have to wait and see where Kline’s mysterious investigation leads.

But this saucy sirloin figured that, after its judicial whipping, Kline’s office would at least be up to speed on child brides.

We wondered about the 40 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 who gave birth in Kansas in 2003, as recorded by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Considering that the age of consent in Kansas is 16, these seemed to be possible cases of statutory rape. Had Kline’s office begun an inquisition into them?

Kline’s spokesman, Whitney Watson, said he didn’t know whether the fathers of those children had faced prosecution. But he did provide a helpful tip: “You could call every county attorney and find out if they’ve been prosecuted.”

Thanks, Mr. Watson. Nice to see that the AG’s office is investigating.

Actually, the Strip figures, it might get a little complicated investigating live births by 12- and 13-year-old girls in a state that allows 12-year-olds to get hitched. The Strip imagines that Dr. Phill might run into some trouble seeking medical records from the wife of a fine, strapping, twentysomething Kansas farmer who did the right thing and married his baby’s 14-year-old momma.

Anyway, these days we’re not sure what to believe when it comes to Kline’s office. We know from personal experience that Watson can get excitable, but even Kline had to give him a little spanking in a September 6 letter to The Kansas City Star.

See, on September 2, the Star’s David Klepper had quoted Watson cavalierly saying, “Law enforcement does not have to explain why it seeks information.”

Yikes! Even Kline knew that looked bad.

“I am writing regarding the need for law enforcement to justify its actions consistent with constitutional protections afforded all Americans,” Kline wrote to the Star. “Unfortunately, my spokesperson improperly stated otherwise in a story regarding the subpoena of medical records issued by a district judge.” Kline explained that a judge issued the subpoenas after reviewing evidence, as the Constitution requires. “Law enforcement should always be required to demonstrate evidentiary justification for their actions to a court before acting unless immediate action is necessary to protect life or property,” Kline wrote.

This meat patty asked Watson what happened. Did he misspeak? Did the Star screw up?

“It was taken out of context,” Watson said before telling us to call Klepper. (We did, but he didn’t call us back.) “I’m not going to waste any time with the Pitch.”

And that makes the Strip very, very sad. Because we wanted to ask whether his boss’s pants were on fire.

Categories: News