opinion

OPINION: Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill must face clear consequences



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Attorney General Curtis Hill allegedly groped a state representative and three legislative staffers at a party. Tribune News Service

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill might have his law license suspended because he allegedly groped a state representative and three legislative staffers at a party in 2018. If his license is suspended following a state Supreme Court decision, he might be forced out of office and Gov. Eric Holcomb could appoint his replacement. However, there is no precedent for an attorney general’s license being suspended, and Hill could attempt to remain in office and run for re-election.

Hill should not be allowed to continue as the attorney general. This kind of predatory behavior is unacceptable for an attorney general. Ethics aside, it is unthinkable that an attorney general could remain in office with a suspended law license. 

Holcomb and the two Republican statehouse leaders called on Hill to resign in 2018 in response to the allegations. Hill denied any wrongdoing and refused to step down from his elected position.

However, it is unclear if Hill could be impeached for incapacity or negligence because the attorney general is not explicitly listed as a state officer in Indiana’s constitution.

A special prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges against Hill in October. The special prosecutor told the Associated Press that he believed the women, but they could not meet the burden of proof. A civil lawsuit filed against Hill by the four women who alleged Hill groped them was dismissed in federal court last week. A federal judge said his alleged sexual misconduct, while described as reprehensible, did not meet the legal standard for the lawsuit. 

An Indiana Supreme Court disciplinary panel, however, examined the accusations last year and recommended a two-year law license suspension. The panel cited professional misconduct because Hill allegedly committed misdemeanor battery against the four women and felony sexual battery against one of them.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby issued a report last month recommending that Hill’s law license be suspended for 60 days without automatic reinstatement. 

Hill’s suspension is up to the state Supreme Court, which does not have a deadline to make a decision. Under Indiana law, the attorney general must be duly licensed to practice law in Indiana, but it is unclear whether a suspension would violate this requirement. 

Practicing law is an important part of the attorney general’s job, and they should always have the ability to represent the state in legal matters. A suspension would violate this notion, even if only temporarily. 

An amendment to Senate Bill 178 would resolve this confusion by making an attorney general ineligible for office if disbarred or suspended for more than 30 days during a term or in the last five years before taking office. If it passes and the state Supreme Court suspends Hill’s license, there would be a vacancy for the position and Hill would not be able to run again for five years. 

The amendment passed in the House but failed in the Senate on Thursday. Now, the bill will go to a conference committee to determine what happens next. The legislative session is set to end Wednesday, so lawmakers must act quickly. Holcomb has already said he would sign the bill if it is passed. 

The General Assembly should pass the amendment because there should be a clear process for removing all elected officials from office, including the attorney general. Officials need to be held accountable for their actions. 

The state’s top lawyer should not be someone credibly accused of sexually harassing women. 

“It makes a difference when he engages in what, to the lay person, looks like an unlawful manner,” IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor Jennifer Drobac told the Associated Press. “It also sets a horrible example for other people in the state.”

If this amendment is not passed and Hill’s license is suspended, Indiana could not only have an attorney general who has been sanctioned for professional misconduct, but also an attorney general who can’t even practice law. 

If the state health commissioner’s medical license was suspended, would you want them to remain in office? Hoosiers deserve an attorney general who is qualified for the job. 

The General Assembly should enact legislation that would make the requirements to be attorney general explicitly clear. It’s just common sense. 

Allyson McBride (she/her) is a sophomore studying English and political science. She is the director of outreach and diversity for College Democrats at IU.

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