By Patrick Forrest
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb filed an emergency motion to intervene and request a clarification from the Indiana Supreme Court in response to the recent ruling that suspended the Attorney General’s law license for 30 days.
Attorney General Curtis Hill, who made history as the state’s first African-American Attorney General following his election in 2016, had been facing allegations of inappropriately touching multiple women at a party celebrating the end of the legislative session in March 2018.
“This matter has been investigated three times. There was an investigation undertaken by the General Assembly, another by the Inspector General and, finally, one by the Special Prosecutor.” Don Lundberg, Lundberg Legal, counsel to Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, said regarding the filing by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. “And after having reviewed all the information, all three reached the same conclusion: no further action was warranted. The Attorney General remains focused on serving the people of Indiana.”
In the time following the incident back in 2018, Holcomb commented about efforts that had taken place in order to update sexual harassment policies for government officials in the state.
“We took great care to update our sexual harassment policies for the executive, legislative and judicial branches in the past few months,” Gov. Holcomb said in a statement after the time that the allegations came to light. “No one should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances. I commend House and Senate leaders for their immediate and formal follow up to the allegations presented to them.” Following the allegations, many legislators throughout the state were calling for Hill to resign his post as Attorney General, with Senate minority leader Tim Lanane arguing that by remaining in the role Hill would discredit all decisions made by the office.
“I am more than disappointed by the stance the Attorney General is taking. Comments during his press conference and his posturing on his own campaign website are inappropriate,” Lanane said. “It is unfortunate that the Attorney General has decided to remain in his seat as Indiana’s chief law enforcement officer, instead of stepping aside. These allegations will continue to discredit this important office and are an unnecessary distraction from the work that needs to be carried out by his office.”
Allies for Hill had created a fund for his defense as a federal nonprofit entity, meaning it could accept unlimited, tax-deductible donations from individuals or businesses, with no obligation to ever disclose its donors. The group’s chairwoman Linda Chezem, a retired Indiana Court of Appeals judge, had taken to describe the allegations as a political lynching.
“Political lynching and character assassination are not new in politics, but Indiana can and should do better,” Chezem said. “Under Indiana law, the touching of another person is not inappropriate behavior, unless it is rude, angry or insolent touching. Merely touching without more is not sexual assault, nor is it harassment.”
A group of four women, Niki DaSilva, Samantha Lozano, Gabrielle McLemore and State representative Mara Candelaria Reardon, filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Curtis Hill and the State of Indiana in June of 2019. The women were asserting claims under federal law including sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as constitutional equal protection claims.
The group is pursuing these civil causes of action against Curtis Hill individually and as Indiana Attorney General, and the State of Indiana, as an avenue to achieve the plaintiffs’ two main goals, according to the law firm that represented the women.
The women asked that Hill be “held accountable” for the alleged actions at the March party on top of the alleged retaliatory actions that took place following the incident.
“I accept with humility and respect the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling of a 30-day suspension of my license with automatic reinstatement. I have directed that beginning Monday, May 18, Chief Deputy Aaron Negangard will assume responsibility for the legal operations of this office during the temporary suspension of my license until it is reinstated on Wednesday, June 17. I offer my deepest gratitude to my family, friends and the entire staff of the Office of the Attorney General. My staff has worked tirelessly and without interruption and will continue to do so on behalf of all Hoosiers,” said Attorney General Hill.
The women also asked for the court to impose financial damages and award equitable relief requiring that the State of Indiana drastically improve its policies and procedures for the prevention, reporting, and reconciliation of sexual harassment and retaliation.
“We’re initiating litigation to ensure all individuals working in and around the Indiana Statehouse are able to perform their jobs and pursue their careers free from sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation for reporting such situations,” said DaSilva.
Following Hill’s 30-day license suspension, his license will be automatically reinstated allowing him to resume legal duties rather than going through a lengthy reapplication process. The suspension is scheduled to begin May 18 and Hill is slated to be reinstated in his role on June 17.
Hill had a long reputation as a prosecutor for being “relentless in his pursuit of justice” along with his skills as a trial lawyer. He was also aggressive in reopening investigations of years-old “cold cases” in order to achieve justice for victims. Hill famously filed charges of rape, child molestation and criminal confinement against Robert Quinn in relation to the 1988 assault against a 10-year-old girl in 2013.
In his 2016 election, Hill received 1.64 million votes, making him the top vote getter in Indiana electoral history.