By Tim Carpenter, The Topeka Capitol-Journal
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday challenging actions of an attorney with the Kansas Corporation Commission who accused two environmental activists of illegally conducting business as lawyers.
Dustin Kirk, who was the KCC’s deputy general counsel, submitted complaints last year to the Kansas attorney general’s office asserting activists Cindy Hoedel and Scott Yeargain engaged in the unauthorized practice of law while communicating with environmentalists who questioned permits issued by the state to fracking industry operators.
Subsequently, the office of Attorney General Derek Schmidt absolved Hoedel. Status of the case involving Yeargain was clouded because he’s never received notice from the attorney general regarding outcome of an investigation.
“There was no legitimate basis for believing Hoedel or Yeargain were engaged in the unauthorized practice of law,” said Lauren Bonds, legal director for ACLU of Kansas. “As an attorney, he really should’ve known that Cindy and Scott’s activism didn’t constitute a law practice.”
Bonds said Kirk’s intent was “just a way to punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights and for trying to defend their homes.”
Kirk, who no longer works for the KCC, wasn’t available for comment. His complaint triggering a state law authorizing the attorney general to investigate alleged consumer-oriented misconduct was outlined in an August 2018 story published by The Topeka Capital-Journal. Yeargain and Hoedel viewed Kirk’s complaint as retaliation for their advocacy before the KCC.