District Judge Clark V Owens was appointed yesterday to preside over a case involving later term abortion provider George Tiller after the previous judge drew attention for his anti-abortion views. Dr. Tiller, one of the few providers of later term abortions in the US, is facing 19 misdemeanor charges for allegedly seeking approvals on later tem abortions from a physician with whom he had financial and legal ties. Last week in Kansas, Sedgwick County Judge Anthony Powell, a former state legislator known for his anti-abortion views, was assigned to Dr. Tiller’s case. On Friday, Judge Powell recused himself, citing media attention and the intention to avoid “the appearance of impropriety,” the Associated Press reports. Judge Powell added that, in high profile cases, “the judiciary is on trial as much as the defendant,” according to the AP.
Judge Owens, the new judge in the case, was appointed by Chief Judge Michael Corrigan. A former district attorney and a state judge for the last 16 years, Owens has been more evenly received by both sides of the abortion debate, despite a public record showing he opposes abortion rights. Owens previously served as a county Republican chairman and told the Wichita Eagle that his “personal beliefs are pro-life” and that “it’s time for the state to regulate third-trimester abortions.” Still, Owens has not been actively anti-choice; Kansas Coalition for Life Chair Mark Gietzen told the Wichita Eagle that Owens has never “attended a pro-life meeting or a pro-life function’ The crowd he hangs with is more [on] the moderate side.” Dan Monnat, a lawyer for Dr. Tiller, told the Wichita Eagle that he thinks Owens will be “perfectly capable of fairly hearing the case.”
In the case, which was brought by Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison (D), Dr. Tiller will challenge the constitutionality of the state law that mandates doctors to obtain second opinions on later term abortions. Dr. Tiller’s lawyers argue that the law is too vague and similar laws in other states have been struck down.