INDIANAPOLIS – Two men who have dedicated their lives to the law are vying for the open seat of Indiana attorney general in November.
Democrat Lorenzo Arredondo and Republican Curtis Hill Jr. are seeking to replace Greg Zoeller as the state’s top lawyer. Zoeller did not seek re-election. The four-year term pays $94,5000 annually.
Arredondo, a 75-year-old who has called East Chicago home his entire life, is the youngest of 10 children. His parents immigrated from Mexico in 1923 and his union-leader father was killed in 1955 – an event that shifted Arredondo’s focus from working in the steel mill to going to college.
After being a teacher for a while, he decided to go to law school and spent time prosecuting cases before serving as a Lake County judge for 34 years.
"My mom always told us this was the greatest country in the world and you should apply yourself and contribute to the community. that’s why we come here," Arredondo said. "Every generation must do its part to make this a better system. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport."
Hill, 55, grew up in Elkhart and lives there with his wife and five children. He got his law degree from Indiana University.
"I had traveled and seen different parts of the country, but I wanted to go back to Elkhart to spend time with my parents," he said. "I hung a shingle, and it was important for my dad to see some of my success."
His dad was active in the civil rights movement and taught Hill how important community service was.
He practiced law for 27 years – including time as a general lawyer and as a part-time prosecutor. He ran for prosecutor in 2002 on a platform of moving the office to a full-time operation. He is in his fourth term.
"We locked up a lot of bad people doing bad things," Hill said. "People can’t feel free unless they feel safe."
The position of attorney general is primarily about defending local convictions or laws the General Assembly passed but has become increasingly political in recent years.
Zoeller, for instance, has signed on to a number of national lawsuits brought against the Obama administration. And he has defended laws passed by lawmakers that were found to be unconstitutional.
Hill said he doesn’t want the office to do things for political reasons but recognizes that executive agencies on the federal level affect Indiana government and sometimes need to be challenged.
He said legislation passed by lawmakers is presumptively constitutional.
"If it’s a situation where I think it’s a clear violation then it’s my duty to say that and be transparent about my concerns," Hill said. "But I won’t engage in frivolous disagreement. Some legislation I might not agree with, but it’s perfectly legal."
Arredondo, though, is using this topic as a base of his campaign.
"Lately it’s been a launching pad for young ambitious politicians who want to become governor or senator. I want to bring it back to what it was created for – the people’s lawyer," he said. "I would not spend taxpayer time and resources on lawsuits that just can’t be won."
He said Zoeller has used the national suits to fight alleged federal overreach. But Arredondo said he would more carefully review the legal merits of a case, not the political ones.
"Some of those lawsuits are clear and there is no point in getting into them except to make news," he said.
Arredondo also said he won’t blindly defend questionable laws.
"There is a right not to defend if it’s not defensible," he said, noting his time as a judge should be a great advantage as he is used to listening to both sides and reviewing all legal precedent before making determinations.
Arredondo would like to focus more on the consumer side of the office, where Hoosiers can go if they have been defrauded or scammed or just have a telemarketer that won’t stop calling.
Arredondo said not everyone wants to go online to file a complaint or through an automated phone system. He would have members of his office have hours at local libraries to hear concerns from residents.
Hill said he would be more aggressive defending convictions obtained by local prosecutors. He would also carefully consider when using outside attorneys at much higher rates than those working for the state.
At times, it seems Hill is talking about serving in a different office – perhaps governor?
"I’m looking forward to the opportunity to serve in this capacity. It’s a very important office," he said. "Sometimes people ask what it’s about. I say we are the champion for the people – defender of freedom; protector of families; inspiring solutions."