Kansas' attorney general has admitted to having an extramarital affair with a former staffer, and the governor said Monday he should resign if allegations including workplace sexual harassment are proven.
The former staffer filed a civil rights claim against Attorney General Paul Morrison last month with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to her account, the affair began in September 2005 and lasted about two years. Linda Carter also accused him of attempting to influence a federal lawsuit involving a political opponent.
Morrison, who is married and has three children, said Sunday that many of Carter's claims are "patently false," but he confirmed they had a relationship.
Morrison, 53, was Johnson County's district attorney for 18 years before switching to the Democratic Party last year to challenge GOP conservative Phill Kline for attorney general. Republicans then picked Kline to take over Morrison's old job.
Carter, former director of administration for the district attorney's office, accuses Morrison of trying to pressure her to write letters on behalf of eight former employees who were dismissed by Kline. In August, a federal magistrate dismissed all but one count in a wrongful termination lawsuit they filed.
Carter, who is also married, also claims Morrison sought sensitive information about Kline's activities as district attorney. She detailed her allegations in a signed statement obtained by The Topeka Capital-Journal.
"Unfortunately, it is true, however, that I once had a consensual relationship with Mrs. Carter. And I profoundly regret that I did," Morrison's office said in a statement Sunday. "Many of the details Mrs. Carter dished to the newspaper regarding the nature of our relationship are absolutely false."
On Monday, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Morrison should resign if the allegations are proven.
"Certainly, if any of the allegations turn out to be accurate, I think yes," Sebelius said in a brief interview with reporters. "One deals with his conduct as an attorney in the DA's office. The other is as an employer. I think either one should trigger a resignation."
The Associated Press left messages Sunday at a telephone number listed for Carter, whose age was not available. Morrison, through a spokeswoman, declined further comment, and asked in his statement for privacy as "I work through these painful issues."
Kline spokesman Brian Burgess also declined comment, except to say that the situation was still developing and the district attorney's office was assessing it.
Carter's allegations and Morrison's acknowledgment of the affair stunned legislative leaders and cast a cloud over the Democrat's political future.
"I think most people are probably still in shock. These are some astonishing allegations," Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt said. "Clearly, this will consume a great deal of time in the coming weeks and months, and it's likely to impede the attorney general's ability to advance an agenda in the Legislature."
The governor said she didn't want to "prejudge the situation," but that it was a shock and disappointment to her to learn of the allegations.
"I think it's a huge setback for Kansans. This I don't see as a partisan issue," said Sebelius. "I think when people put their faith in a public official and feel that faith to be violated, it's a huge disappointment and a shock for a lot of people."
Before the affair became public, even some Republicans assumed Morrison wouldn't face a serious challenge if he sought re-election in 2010. He won the attorney general's race last year with 59 percent of the vote.
During the campaign, Morrison faced allegations that he had drunkenly propositioned another female employee in a bar in 1990. But two federal lawsuits arising from those claims were dismissed, and when Kline raised the claims as an issue during the campaign's final weeks, the tactic backfired.
As Kline was failing to gain ground, Morrison and Carter were having their affair, according to her account. She said they had sexual encounters in the Johnson County Courthouse and in hotels in several Kansas cities and three other states.
'Profound lack of judgment'
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group and a frequent Morrison critic, said the attorney general should resign because his actions show such a "profound lack of judgment and honesty."
Her group has been following Morrison's activities closely because abortion was an important issue in the attorney general's race. The candidates argued about Kline's pursuit of records from abortion clinics as part of a criminal investigation.
Though he has pursued his own case, Morrison, an abortion rights supporter, criticized a case Kline filed against a Wichita abortion provider. As district attorney, Kline has filed criminal charges against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park.
Those disputes spilled into Morrison's affair with Carter, according to her statement. Carter said Morrison also was upset that she continued to work for Kline until she left the district attorney's office in late November.
Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.