Abortion, Attorney Misconduct, Dahlia Lithwick, Sex, Social Media, Twittering

Truth Is Not A Defense On Twitter
(Or, why Phill Kline is a total tool.)

I was born and raised in Kansas. No big whoop. That state is where I took my first dump, drank my first beer, and felt my first boob. So, y’know, lotta fine memories. It’s where I first embraced my own mediocrity, never rising above third chair in a middle school band that had four trumpets. I have stories in which hay bales feature prominently. The town I was born in, Manhattan, is nicknamed the Little Apple. The more cosmopolitan among us always get a kick out of that last one.

Yesterday, a research attorney for a Kansas Court of Appeals judge was fired for tweeting the sentiment you see in the headline above these words. She was fired for getting all fired up and telling the world what she thought about one of the more irksome characters to pass through Kansas jurisprudence in the past many years. Sarah Peterson Herr, the lady who was fired yesterday for the tweets, learned an invaluable life lesson. Namely, that truth is almost never a defense. That you cannot, and probably should not, speak the truth whenever the mood strikes.

Even if it is about a man who doesn’t know how to spell his own first name…

Phillip D. Kline

That man is Phill Kline. He’s a douchebag, and this is his story.

In 2005, Phill began investigating child rape as the state’s Attorney General. The logical way to do this, of course, was to subpoena a heaping mess of abortion records and go after a rather notorious provider of abortions in the state. As if to prove that he really really really cared about child sex, his next crusade involved forcing medical providers to report any sex minors might have, even if it was two minors doing the deed. Back in 2006, Dahlia Lithwick had this to say about Philll:

Kline’s position is the same one he’s taken in demanding to see abortion clinic records: This is part of a comprehensive plan to protect children from sexual abuse. But as is the case with the clinic records, the tools he’s chosen are too crude. In one case, he wants to see unredacted abortion clinic records to sift for evidence of child sexual abuse, yet many of the 90 files he demands involve adult women, not minors. In this case, he says he needs to be advised of every breast that’s been fondled around the state because each such incident is a crime, yet the vast majority of such fondlings harm no one, as he is well aware. As one expert testified Monday, wading through those thousands of benign reports will make the genuine abuse cases harder to pursue.

But really, the remarkable thing is that no one in Kansas cares about what Dahlia Lithwick thinks about reproductive issues. Trust me. It was never Philll’s positions that did him in. His record, while particularly aggressive, could have been sold by a more likeable fella to Kansas’s conservative citizenry. But likeable Phillll is not. Philllll is a douchebag.

Which is why Kansas voters threw him out of the Attorney Generalship and then booted him from the Johnson County district attorney’s gig he got after that. Apparently he’s now found salvation as a visiting law professor at Liberty University. But he still has some unfinished business to conduct back in the Sunflower State. They’re trying to take away old Phillllll’s law license for all the corners he allegedly cut in his war on heathens.

And that’s where Sarah Herr and her tweets come in. The tweets, posted while Kline was appearing before the Kansas Supreme Court in his ethics hearing, were fairly standard issue coarseness:

One tweet commented on Kline’s facial expression, saying “Why is Phil Klein (sic) smiling? There is nothing to smile about, douchebag.” Another predicted that Kline would be disbarred by the court for seven years for his conduct.

A misspelling, the word douchebag, and an opinion no one asked for. Twitter, ladies and germs.

These fairly innocuous tweets are why Sarah Peterson Herr, former research attorney for a Kansas appeals court judge, is now just another unemployed lawyer. And I don’t feel the slightest bit of sympathy.

First of all, her tweets were dumb. I was under the impression that Twitter was a medium for bite-sized platitudes and cleverish one-liners. This was not funny, did not impart even bumper-sticker wisdom and, to top it all off, affected the sort of internet tough guy routine usually reserved for weightlifting message boards. Boo, Ms. Herr. Boo.

Furthermore, her bland attack on Kline fed into the paranoid posture that makes up his defense. To wit:

Tom Condit, who represented Kline during his ethics hearing, has called for an independent investigation of the judicial branch, saying that he believes the attitudes expressed by Herr permeate the entire court system. Condit said Monday that Herr’s firing was expected, based on her actions, and didn’t change his desire for further review.

“I have no interest in insulting any judge or justice in that courthouse who is prepared to be fair and objective as it relates to Phill Kline,” Condit said. “But the bigger question has always been what kind of atmosphere prevails in the back rooms of the high courts of Kansas that would make a young lady like that so comfortable to tweet those kinds of comments in those circumstances.”

Herr made the state of Kansas’s job of giving Phill Kline the middle finger that much harder. And for that reason alone, what she did is unforgivable and, more to the point, an eminently fireable offense. It doesn’t matter that what she said is true. Truth is only one of a bajillion competing values and the constant onslaught of dumb, no-duh obvious tweets like Herr’s suggests that maybe it’s not even that. No Kansas judge asked for Herr’s opinion in this case and now she must pack her knives and go.

In the comments, tell us a little about your home state.

Kansas appeals court lawyer fired after using foul language in tweet about ex-attorney general
[Washington Post]

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