The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, October 20, 2019 1:00 am

Stage set for Hill misconduct case

Disciplinary hearing for state attorney begins Monday

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – One of the most high-profile attorney discipline cases in Indiana history gets underway Monday morning.

At issue is whether Attorney General Curtis Hill violated lawyer conduct rules when he allegedly touched multiple women at a legislative party in 2018. Hill has admitted only to having drinks.

At stake is whether he is disciplined – including possibly losing his elected post. The attorney general must have a law license and Hill's could be suspended if found guilty.

The disciplinary hearing is scheduled for the entire week – with lawyers for the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission expected to call 15 or more witnesses, and Hill's attorneys calling between five and 10.

Former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby will hear the evidence and recommend any possible sanction. But the current five-member Indiana Supreme Court will ultimately decide Hill's fate.

Here is what you need to know about key players in the case:

Curtis Hill

The gregarious attorney general is in his third year in the elected post after serving 12 years as Elkhart County prosecutor.

The tough-on-crime Republican has had a thorny relationship with some GOP officials. When news of the allegations against him leaked in July 2018, the governor and legislative leadership called for his resignation. But Hill has vehemently denied doing anything wrong and called his accusers' credibility into question.

Legislative leaders looked into the incident when a female lawmaker and three female staffers came forward with allegations. But they determined they couldn't do anything because it didn't fall under workplace harassment rules. Eventually a special prosecutor was named, but he chose not to file criminal charges. An ethics probe reported distasteful behavior but couldn't find enough evidence for a violation.

Hill has refused to be questioned about the event. He recorded a statement for the special prosecutor but this week's hearing will be the first time he will be cross-examined about his version of events.

Accusers

Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, Gabrielle McLemore Brock, Samantha Lozano and Niki DaSilva will face Hill in the hearing for the first time. Reardon is a House Democrat; McLemore works for Senate Democrats, Lozano works for the House Democrats and Niki DaSilva previously worked for the Senate Republicans.

The allegations are that Hill touched their back, waists and/or butts while at the crowded bar and made inappropriate comments such as calling them hot or telling them to show some skin to get drinks. He admits drinking and having an “engaging personality” and in court records said he sometimes leans close because he has hearing loss in one ear.

The women have filed a federal civil suit against Hill and the state. The evidence that comes out in the disciplinary hearing – and its ultimate conclusion – will likely impact that suit.

Judge  

Myra Selby is the hearing officer in the disciplinary case and will control this week's proceedings. She served on the Indiana Supreme Court from 1995 to 1999 before leaving the bench. When appointed, Selby was the first woman and the first African-American to serve on the state's highest court. 

She is a partner at the Ice Miller law firm in Indianapolis, and has also chaired a commission on race and gender fairness.

Hill's attorneys initially suggested Selby might need to recuse herself because a potential witness also works at her law firm. That witness is David Long, the former president pro tem of the Indiana Senate who was in charge when the allegations surfaced. He also called for Hill's resignation.

Selby determined there was no basis for disqualification. 

At a prehearing Wednesday she discussed the media interest in the hearing but said she expects the lawyers' conduct to be appropriate. There will be no livestream of the hearing, and reporters are not allowed to take pictures or record audio or video of the proceedings. 

Defense lawyers

Hill has assembled quite a legal team in Jim Voyles and Donald Lundberg.

Voyles is a high-profile Indianapolis criminal attorney who generally is known as the person that celebrities call when they get in trouble. Those he has represented include Mike Tyson, Tony Stewart, Bob Knight and Jim Irsay.

But Lundberg might be the secret weapon. He spent almost 20 years as head of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, leaving in 2010. That means he has deep knowledge of how the disciplinary system works and the precedents that can be used.

Hill's team lost one key evidentiary ruling – one allowing communications between Hill and lawyers in his office about the incident to be entered into evidence. And they are still fighting for testimony on past behavior not to be allowed as evidence.

Lundberg didn't respond to emails seeking comment.

Hill's inner circle

Chief Deputy Aaron Negangard and Chief of Staff Mary Beth Bonaventura could play a pivotal role in the proceeding.

The disciplinary commission sought communications between them and Hill about the allegations. The two lawyers moved to quash the request, saying their communications with Hill about the legislative party and the subsequent allegations and disciplinary action were protected under attorney-client privilege. Hill claims he was soliciting legal advice and opinions from them.

But the commission said it would be a felony under the ghost employment statute for Hill to assign employees of the office to duties not related to the government office – such as acting as his personal attorney.

Selby ruled against Hill, but when documents were exchanged last week his lawyers still refused to turn over the communications. They said Selby had denied their motion but didn't definitively rule on attorney-client privilege. Selby on Wednesday issued an emergency motion to compel that the documents be turned over by close of business Thursday. The order specifically excluded a June 19, 2019, text from Bonaventure to Hill.

Hill's attorneys also asked that some parts of the discovery be provided under a protective order so the public can't see it. Selby has said no so far, though personal information such as cell numbers and email addresses can be redacted.

Prosecutors

Lawyers for the disciplinary commission – Seth Pruden and Angie Ordway – are not as widely known as the defense team. Their work prosecuting lawyers who have misstepped rarely makes headlines.

It is unclear how long Pruden has been with the commission but he did at one time work with Lundberg there.

Ordway joined the panel sometime after 2009, according to her LinkedIn profile. She previously worked in private practice.

The duo filed a pre-hearing brief reminding the judge that the burden of proof in the case is clear and convincing evidence, rather than the higher criminal burden of beyond a reasonable doubt. And they note that a lawyer doesn't have to be charged or convicted of a crime to be disciplined.

They also plan to call two former employees of Hill's in Elkhart County. One is expected to testify about unwanted sexual advances by Hill in the workplace, and has a voicemail he left her one day after the party. Hill's attorneys are trying to block the witnesses and the judge has yet to rule on that motion.

The commission did not respond to messages seeking comment. 

nkelly@jg.net


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