The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 1:00 am

Hill's lawyers say discipline unwarranted

Ask high court to reject suspension

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Attorney General Curtis Hill's lawyers filed a 63-page brief Monday arguing the Indiana Supreme Court should reject a hearing officer's recommendation that Hill be suspended at least two months.

“The lawyer discipline system has an important purpose – to regulate Indiana's legal profession to protect how its members interact with the courts, their clients and the system of justice,” the brief said. “It is not a system that was created as a mechanism to hold lawyers accountable to the law generally or considerations of personal morality that do not implicate the interests of clients, judicial officers or third-party participants in legal affairs.”

Hill is pushing for the entire disciplinary case to be dismissed.

“There are at least two mechanisms of accountability for him in his role as attorney general. First, there is the statutory mechanism of impeachment. Second, there is the political mechanism of voter support or lack thereof. Those mechanisms should be entrusted to act (or not) in the circumstances of this case,” the brief said.

Hill is accused of groping a state representative and three legislative staffers at a work-related function in March 2018. It was after midnight in a bar celebrating the end of the legislative session. A special prosecutor chose not to file criminal charges and a federal employment lawsuit was dismissed because none of the women worked for Hill.

A four-day disciplinary hearing was held in October, and the hearing judge recommended a suspension without automatic reinstatement.

The Indiana Supreme Court must decide what – if any – punishment is appropriate. If Hill's law license is suspended, it could mean he loses his office. He is also seeking reelection this year.

Hill's lawyers argue that none of his actions were related to the practice of law. And they say he was just being friendly.

“(Hill) made his way around the room, introducing himself and spending time in conversation with many people he knew and many people he did not previously know,” the filing said. “As was his custom, he shook hands, embraced arms or touched the backs of many men and women as he engaged in various conversations throughout the event.

“It is likely that (the women) were unfamiliar with (Hill's) style of interacting with others and could have found his approach outside their natural comfort zone.”

Hill's attorneys also contend Hill has been genuinely remorseful.

They pointed to the fact that he apologized in a phone conversation with former House Speaker Brian Bosma and former Senate President Pro Tem David Long in June 2018 and again when he testified at his hearing.

“He has defended himself in this case, but has done so because he has legitimate, good faith defenses,” the brief said.

But the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, which has prosecuted the case, said the apology was not genuine.

“When the legislative leaders confronted (Hill) with the allegations made by the four women, (he) apologized 'to the extent he did or said anything to offend anybody.' (Hill) did not acknowledge any wrongdoing or admit any boundaries had been crossed,” the commission argued.

In fact, they said, he expressed no remorse about his conduct – “rather, it is an expression that the victims are only victims because of their mistaken perception.”

The commission also argues there is more to the case than just his actions at the social gathering.

“The harm to the victims did not end with the physical assaults and their fear and humiliation at the Sine Die event. When (Hill) was confronted by legislative leaders ... (Hill) embarked on a public campaign to use the power of his office to falsely accuse the victims of making 'false' accusations and to discredit them.”

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