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Kansas appeals court attorney fired over tweet

TOPEKA, Kan. -- A Kansas appeals court attorney was fired Monday after using foul language about the state's former attorney general in comments she posted to Twitter last week.

Sarah Peterson Herr, a research attorney for a Kansas Court of Appeals judge, posted the comments about former Attorney General Phill Kline while he was appearing before the Kansas Supreme Court as part of an ethics investigation.

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.

The Kansas Supreme Court is considering whether Kline's law license should be indefinitely suspended for his conduct during investigations of abortion providers. The comments appeared around 10 a.m. Thursday when Kline was standing before the seven-member court answering questions about his conduct while he was attorney general and Johnson County district attorney.

Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said Monday that Herr had been fired and that her case had been referred to other offices for possible ethical violations.

Messages left for Herr weren't immediately returned.

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 had worked for Court of Appeals Judge Christel Marquardt since 2010, with a promotion to research attorney in 2011.

She was suspended with pay on Friday, the same day she apologized for making the comments publicly. Herr said she failed to realize her posts were readable by all Twitter readers and she understood her posts may have reflected badly on the state's court system.

Court spokesman Ron Keefover said he couldn't disclose details of the investigation that led to Herr's firing, including where she was when the tweets were posted or if she was in the building during the hearing. Court rules regarding judges and justices commenting on pending cases extend to the judicial branch staff.

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