Shouldn’t the Kansas Judiciary be about law and justice and not about politics? Shouldn’t the Kansas Judiciary investigate itself when the political actions of someone within the Judiciary could damage the reputation and careers of attorneys?
This article clarifies some of the mystery surrounding the recent release of a letter from the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator to the press about former Attorney General Phill Kline and his deputies.
Press reports from late February told about a letter from Stan Hazlett, Administrator of the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, to attorney Caleb Stegall, who represents former Attorney General Phill Kline, and his former deputies, Eric Rucker and Stephen Maxwell. The letter informed Mr. Stegall that a formal complaint against his clients is pending, but no information is known about the nature of the complaint.
The press printed information about this letter, but it’s not clear how they received this letter without someone in the Judiciary leaking information to them. Do we want individuals in the Kansas Judiciary leaking information to the press for political purposes?
An earlier Meadowlark article indicated that Stan Hazlett’s office refused to release the letter, or any information about those requesting the letter, since his office was exempt from such Kansas Open Record Act (KORA) requests. Mr. Hazlett might have been helpful and indicated the letter was a public document, but it was the job of Mr. Ron Keefover, Information Officer at the Kansas Judicial Center, to release such information to the public.
Two E-mails and two phone conversations with Mr. Keefover confirmed some information about the letter. Mr. Keefover confirmed that the letter itself was a public document and could be released. Normally, Mr. Keefover would issue a press advisory about the letter and then answer follow-up questions.
But in this case, two reporters somehow found out about the letter and requested information about it before Mr. Keefover could follow his normal release procedure.
With secrecy imposed on the investigations by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, how would anyone know what cases Mr. Hazlett and his office were investigating, and how far along their investigations were?
Did the press just guess that something was up on Feb 26, and make a non-specific, random request for information from Mr. Keefover? Or, once tipped off, did the press specifically ask for information about a possible action against former Attorney General Kline?
Mr. Keefover responded to an open records request for the E-mails he sent to reporters. The time stamps on the reply E-mails to reporters are ordered as follows:
- 2/26 2:12 PM, John Hanna, AP
- 2/26 2:12 PM, Ron Sylvester, Wichita Eagle
- 2/27 9:30 AM, John Rhulen, Hutchinson News
- 2/27 9:43 AM, S. Vockrodt of bizjournals.com,
- 2/27 1:59 PM, Justin Kendall, The Pitch
- 3/2 3:18 PM, J. Bowes, KansasCommerce.com
- 3/3 2:01 PM, Bud Norman, Kansas Liberty
- 3/4 12:56 PM, Joe Lambe, Kansas City Star
All of the reporters made their requests to Mr. Keefover by phone, and there is no record of the times of their calls.
Mr. Keefover believes John Hanna made the request first, followed a bit later by Ron Sylvester. These two reporters received his first reply at exactly the same minute on Feb 26. They were the first to publish stories about the letter, which was potentially embarrassing to former Attorney General Phill Kline and his deputies.
When questioned, Mr. Keefover said Mr. Hanna was not making a periodic, non-specific “fishing” request. Rather, Mr. Hanna asked specifically about a letter involving Phill Kline according to Mr. Keefover. Mr. Hanna had been tipped off by someone about the case against former AG Kline, and the only people that should know the letter existed worked inside the Kansas Judiciary. Do we want this kind of political action taken by anyone in the Judiciary?
I failed to ask Mr. Keefover the specific question about how Mr. Sylvester asked for the information. Did Mr. Sylvester make a non-specific, almost random request, or did he ask for specific information about Kline?
The Kansas Supreme Court should investigate how the information about this letter was leaked to the press, and take appropriate disciplinary action for such leaks. The Kansas Supreme Court should demonstrate that leaks for political purposes like this could harm one’s career and livelihood, are never acceptable in Kansas.
What is the biggest story? The subject of the such a letter? The political motivations behind the person leaking such information? The response by the Supreme Court to a leak by someone within the Judiciary?
Mr. Hanna and Mr. Sylvester declined to respond to an E-mail request for any comments about this matter.