Gov. Holcomb unsure whether suspension will disqualify Hill from remaining as A.G.

(Photo supplied/State of Indiana)

Governor Holcomb says he’s reviewing whether the suspension of Curtis Hill’s law license disqualifies him from remaining as attorney general.

Indiana law requires the attorney general to be a licensed attorney. For 30 days starting Monday, Hill won’t be, after the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously suspended his license over accusations of inappropriate touching of four women at an after-hours party.

The court reduced Hill’s suspension from the two months a hearing officer had recommended. More significantly, Hill’s law license will be reinstated automatically when the suspension ends June 17. That means he’ll be an attorney in good standing again when he seeks renomination at the Republican convention three days later. Without automatic reinstatement, the process of regaining a law license can take months.

But that still leaves the question of whether temporary ineligibility disqualifies Hill from holding the office. Holcomb notes he supported a legislative attempt to clarify the situation. The bill passed by the House would have forced out an attorney general suspended for more than a month. If it had passed, Hill’s eligibility would be secure. But the Senate scuttled the bill, and the Supreme Court’s disciplinary order didn’t address the issue.

Holcomb says he’s seeking a “quick turnaround” from his in-house legal team in researching whether Hill can remain in office. He notes he called for Hill’s resignation when the incident first came to light in 2018.

State Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer says “Hoosiers would be best served” by picking someone other than Hill, and says he has faith in the delegates. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane says the best way to clear up who’s in charge is for Hill to resign.

The ruling is the latest chapter in a two-year legal battle which began with a party at a downtown bar following the midnight adjournment of the 2018 General Assembly. Representative Mara Candelaria-Reardon (D-Munster) and three legislative staffers from both parties had accused Hill of varying degrees of sexually charged touching and comments, ranging from groping one woman’s bottom to letting his hand linger too long on another’s back.

The justices rejected Hill’s argument that his actions were normal political glad-handing or a natural outgrowth of a party atmosphere in a crowded bar. They say there’s “ample evidence” Hill met the legal standard for battery and says that inherently creates concerns about his fitness to practice law.

But the court says other attorneys disciplined for battery or drunken driving had their licenses reinstated automatically at the end of their suspensions. The hearing officer, former Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby, recommended a harsher penalty largely based on Hill’s attacks on the investigation after it became public, arguing it demonstrated a lack of remorse.

The justices say Hill twice went a “step too far” with news releases, one calling the accusations “vicious” and another suggesting one accuser was coordinating her story when the woman had actually asked a friend to proofread an op-ed column detailing her account. But the court says those statements don’t add up to a failure to take responsibility, and notes legislative leaders had described Hill as apologetic in a private meeting before the accusations became public.

The Indiana Disciplinary Commission introduced several email exchanges among members of Hill’s political team, brainstorming more aggressive attacks on what one email called “leakers and liars.” But the court says Hill’s involvement in those exchanges was minimal and notes many of those proposals were voted down by other members of the team.

The court did scold Hill’s attorneys and the commission’s attorneys for similarly over-the-top language in their briefs, with Hill’s lawyers accusing the commission of a lack of integrity and the commission claiming Hill had perjured himself at his hearing. The court calls both accusations “entirely unfounded,” and says the volley of “hyperbolic” language surrounding them was a “frustrating distraction.”

Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter and Zionsville attorney John Westercamp are challenging Hill for the Republican nomination. Harter, who served on Hill’s transition team in 2016, released a statement saying the decision shows Hill “has lost the trust of Hoosiers and has compromised his ability to do the important work we deserve.”

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