By Tim Carpenter, The Topeka Capital-Journal

The American Civil Liberties Union expanded Tuesday a First Amendment lawsuit filed in federal court against a former Kansas Corporation Commission attorney to include the three current members and one former member of the state commission regulating the state’s energy and utility industries.

The revised complaint submitted to U.S. District Court was inspired by deposition statements of Dustin Kirk, the commission’s former deputy general counsel, that alleged he consulted with KCC commissioners Shari Feist Albrecht, Dwight Keen and Jay Emler before triggering in 2018 an investigation by the attorney general’s office into a claim that two environmentalists were practicing law without a license.

The fourth KCC official inserted into the suit, Susan Duffy, replaced Emler on the commission in 2019. Albrecht’s term on the commission expires March 15.

In response to the latest development in the case, KCC spokeswoman Linda Berry said the commission’s position hadn’t changed regarding the consumer-protection allegations leveled against environmentalists Cindy Hoedel, of Matfield Green in Chase County, and Scott Yeargain, of rural Ottawa.

“The commissioners did not authorize nor were they aware that the complaint was filed,” she said.

The ACLU lawsuit initiated in 2019 originally centered on Kirk because there was no evidence at that juncture KCC members were involved in forwarding of complaints about Hoedel and Yeargain to the attorney general.

In a Feb. 12 deposition by Kirk, however, ACLU legal director Lauren Bonds said it now appeared Kirk met individually with KCC commissioners before involving the attorney general’s office in the investigation of conduct by Hoedel and Yeargain.

“Is that correct?” Bonds said.

“That’s correct,” Kirk said.

Bonds asked Kirk whether KCC members recommended he report Yeargain and Hoedel to the attorney general. Kirk declined to answer her inquiry and asserted attorney-client privilege with the KCC.

“I cannot answer,” Kirk said.

Read the full article at The Topeka Capital-Journal.