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Generals target lawyers in funeral protest group

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Nine retired U.S. Air Force generals have filed a complaint with Kansas regulators seeking the disbarment of 10 lawyers who belong to a Topeka church that protests at military funerals around the country.

In their complaint filed earlier this month with the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys, the generals contend that the 10 members of the Westboro Baptist Church violated the state’s professional conduct rules for lawyers.

Church members have staged anti-gay protests for about 20 years and began picketing military funerals in 2005, claiming the deaths of service members are God’s punishment for what they perceive as the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.

Most of the 10 lawyers named in the complaint are children of the church’s leader, the Rev. Fred Phelps, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal, which reported about the complaint on Monday.

One of the attorneys, Shirley Phelps-Roper, told the newspaper she considers the complaint ludicrous and an attack on church members’ freedoms of speech and religion.

“That’s entertaining,” said Phelps-Roper. “It’s so pathetic.”

The generals, led by retired Maj. Gen. Larry Twitchell, of Ann Arbor, Mich., submitted nearly 900 documents with the complaint to Stanton Hazlett, the administrator for the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys.

The generals are seeking to disbar the lawyers because of what they say is a “decades-long pattern of uncivil and unprofessional conduct,” the complaint states.

Kansas officials said the disciplinary administrator’s office can’t comment on allegations submitted to the board before an investigation is launched or, if one is, an investigation finds probable cause that violations did occur and an official case is moved forward.

About 1,000 letters alleging attorney misconduct are sent to the board each year, with about 300 investigated and 30 advancing to a formal hearing, Kansas Supreme Court spokesman Ron Keefover told The Capital-Journal.

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