Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Declaring that he wants to campaign "on the issues," Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline gets personal

By Diane Silver

How do I honestly write about this?

Do I say there were dueling press conferences on Monday between Republican Attorney General Phill Kline and the wife of his Democratic opponent, Paul Morrison? In fact, there were. Both met with reporters at the Topeka Zoo, of all places.

Do I say, as the Topeka Capital-Journal did, that the attacks flung back and forth a sign of the intensity of the race? Oh yeah, that is certainly true.

Do I report, as many in the media did, that Kline declared that he just wanted to campaign on the issues, but that he needed to tell everyone about a sexual harassment lawsuit filed 15 years ago against Morrison?

The lawsuit was dismissed at every level. A witness called to support the accuser's story failed to do so. At one point, a judge stopped a trial as soon as the accuser's case was presented and dismissed the case. (See details from The Kansas City Star below.)

So, what do I report?

All of it, and let you decide.

For what it's worth, my take on this is that if the lawsuit had turned out differently, then we should be concerned about Morrison. If there were a pattern of harassment, then we should be concerned. So far, though, there is no evidence of that.

If anyone has any evidence, or a witness, I urge them to contact me at hopeandpolitics@yahoo.com, or to email any of the reporters who have covered the story. Heck, give your evidence to the Kline campaign. I doubt if they would sit on it.

Instead of a real issue, however, what seems to be happening is the death struggles of a desperate incumbent.

By the way, Kline held his press conference at the zoo to emphasize, he said, that Morrison is "weaseling."

Note to Kline: Zoo officials report that they don't have any weasels at the zoo.

The Kansas City Star has the best information on the lawsuit. Because details are important, I'm putting most of it here.

The lawsuit was filed by Kelly Summerlin, who was head of the district attorney's victim witness assistance program before she was fired in early 1991.

Summerlin alleged in a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and later in federal court that Morrison made comments to her of an inappropriate nature at a party in November 1990.

In an affidavit filed by Morrison, the district attorney said he made a comment at the party that Summerlin "looked attractive."

"I immediately recognized that she took the comment to mean much more than I intended and there was little additional discussion," he said in an affidavit, adding that he apologized the next day.

Summerlin was fired early the next year.

Her complaint with the EEOC was dismissed after the agency found that a witness offered by Summerlin "does not corroborate the allegation."

A lawsuit in federal court alleged that she was denied her right to challenge the firing.

Morrison and the Johnson County commissioners, who also were named in the suit, contended that Summerlin was fired for her poor management style and inability to get along with others.

After her attorney presented evidence at the trial, the judge stopped the trial and ruled in favor of Morrison and the commissioners.

Summerlin filed an appeal, but the judge later dismissed the lawsuit at the request of both parties.

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