As Johnson County's top prosecutor, Phill Kline has been a disaster.

The Dimwit D.A. 

As Johnson County's top prosecutor, Phill Kline has been a disaster.

It was nearly two weeks before Republican Party leaders met in December to pick a new Johnson County district attorney. Two of the leading contenders, Phill Kline and Scott Hattrup, had arranged a secret meeting in a prominent Johnson County Republican's basement entertainment room. It was a weekday, after business hours, and Kline was fresh from meeting with GOP leaders to convince them to vote for him. He wore a tie and a blue shirt. He sat in the only seat available, across a counter from Hattrup. Kline was ready to make a deal.

Hattrup says a pair of well-known GOP leaders had brokered the meeting. They sensed "a Republican train wreck coming" if Hattrup and Kline faced off in a special vote for Johnson County district attorney. They suggested that Hattrup speak with Kline. Kline wasn't returning Hattrup's calls, so one of the Republicans had set up the meeting.

In November, Kline had lost his bid for re-election as Kansas attorney general. The man who beat him was Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison. Kline began a stealth campaign to switch jobs with Morrison and become Johnson County's top prosecutor.

Hattrup was the only other conservative Republican in a race of four lawyers vying for the job. Hattrup knew he couldn't win. Kline had earned support among the conservative wing of the party for his crusade against abortion. But Hattrup, a stocky, reddish-bearded defense lawyer, wasn't about to go quietly. "I was not going to back down," Hattrup recalls, "just because Phill Kline wanted me to back down."

Kline could wrap up the conservative vote with Hattrup out of the race. He offered Hattrup a deal. If he dropped out, Kline would hire him as a prosecutor.

Kline and Hattrup went way back. Hattrup, an anti-gun-control, anti-embryonic-stem-cell-research Republican, helped Kline in his 1998 race for the Kansas statehouse by digging up dirt on Kline's opponent. When Kline ran for Congress in 2000, Hattrup alerted him to the fact that Kline's law license had expired. More recently, Hattrup helped Kline in his unsuccessful re-election campaign for attorney general.

Even with all this history, Hattrup asked Kline to put the deal in writing. Kline refused. Hattrup asked for some assurance. Hattrup remembers that Kline told him slowly and deliberately, "You will be able to prosecute cases in my office."

Hattrup took the deal.

But Kline didn't want Hattrup to drop out just yet. Kline wanted him in the running until the night of the special election. Kline also told him not to go public; he didn't want the media to find out about the deal.

The night of the December 11 special election went as planned. When the meeting began, a delegate nominated Kline. Hattrup pulled out.

Kline won, 316-291. Kline's victory speech was short. "I look forward to working with all of you to ensure that justice is served, that the right decisions are made and that our communities and children are safe," Kline said, according to an article in The Olathe News. "Thank you very much for this honor."

Later that night, Hattrup ate with Kline's entourage at a Ruby Tuesday. "As far as I knew, I was one of the gang," Hattrup says.

On January 8, Hattrup attended Kline's swearing-in ceremony. Kline told him that they needed to set up a meeting to discuss Hattrup's hiring. Two days later, Kline summoned Hattrup to his office. Kline was direct during the 45-minute meeting. Kline spent most of the meeting explaining why he was backing out of the deal. Kline even claimed that it was Hattrup who hadn't honored their agreement. "I'm not going to do it," Hattrup recalls Kline telling him. "I'm not going to hire you as a prosecutor."

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