A series of high-profile cases, a willingness to jump into the political fray and an emphasis on keeping the public informed have made Greg Zoeller an unusually prominent Indiana attorney general.
Though his activism sometimes seemed to border on using the law for partisan purposes, Zoeller has repeatedly displayed a respect for the law over politics and, perhaps most of all, a determination to make sure Hoosiers and their elected officials are well-represented in court. Though his Democratic challenger, Kay Fleming, is a competent attorney with a public-service background and would likely make a good attorney general, Zoeller has earned a second term.
Zoeller and his office have strongly defended controversial political decisions made by the officials they represent, including school vouchers for parochial schools and withholding funding for Planned Parenthood. And Zoeller zealously joined other states in challenging the Affordable Care Act. But he is duty-bound to vigorously represent the state in lawsuits such as the ones involving Planned Parenthood and school vouchers, and his office had already researched the health care law at the request of Sen. Richard Lugar.
After defending Indianas immigration law, he drew fire from fellow Republicans when he declined to pursue a part of the defense after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down elements of a similar law. His responsibility for representing the state also includes dropping a position the top courts have already rejected.
Three issues stand out in Zoellers willingness to show initiative in pursuit of justice and fairness:
His office quickly and efficiently studied Indianas liability in the Indiana State Fair stage collapse, then hired an expert in disaster compensation to help determine how to fairly award the limited pool of money.
After attorneys for the Department of Child Services sought to stop a newspaper from publishing the transcript of an important call to the troubled and inefficient state child abuse hotline, Zoeller stepped in and dismissed the challenge, properly identifying the move as an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech. He later decided that the attorney generals office would assume responsibility for all DCS cases in the appeals stage.
Midway through his term, Zoeller conducted a legal summit to weigh the financial burdens of the death penalty and encouraged lawmakers to study its implications. One of those is whether a killers chances of receiving the death penalty are based on whether the county where the slaying occurred can afford the costs of a death penalty case.
In addition to numerous high-profile cases, Zoeller has maintained a commitment to investigating consumer complaints and filing suit on consumers behalf when appropriate.
Fleming is an Indianapolis attorney who has varied legal experience – as a clerk for a federal district judge and bankruptcy judge, as a probation officer, as the first chief counsel for the Indiana Gaming Commission and in private practice. She wants to see the attorney general take more initiative in some areas – particularly those involving the DCS – and to establish regional offices to help local prosecutors, particularly those in smaller counties.
Monday: U.S. senator