The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, July 22, 2018 1:00 am

Questions arise: Are taxpayers funding Hill's defense?

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill is fighting for his job and his political career. But who is footing the bill?

State employees have sent out releases via his official account denouncing calls for his resignation, and he held a defiant press conference in his Statehouse digs.

At the same time, his political campaign is running social media ads urging people to get the facts and he addresses the matter on his political website.

“Unfortunately, the answer is you should view it both ways,” said Andrew Downs, associate professor of political science at Purdue Fort Wayne. “It does impact the office, so he does have to speak about it as the attorney general. But when it gets to hiring attorneys and running ads, that's personal.

“It's not a bright line. It's kind of like pornography, you know it when you see it.”

News broke July 2 that Hill has been accused by four women – including one lawmaker – of groping them at a post-session party in March. The event occurred at a downtown bar and the women said he touched their butt and/or backs. The story was based on a leaked legal memo outlining the allegations and the responsibilities – if any – that legislative leaders had to the women as their employer.

A few days later, Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long called for Hill's resignation.

The state inspector general is also investigating and a special prosecutor has been sought if the case veers into criminal territory.

Hill has denied any wrongdoing.

Nicholas Browning, assistant professor for public relations at Indiana University, said there has to be a divide between Hill's personal and professional capacity. 

“If I was going to draw the line this seems like a personal issue with political consequences,” he said.

Things are getting more complicated now that Hill has hired both civil and criminal attorneys to handle different facets of the incident.

Indianapolis lawyer Kevin Betz said he has a contract with “the attorney general as an individual as well as with the attorney general in his capacity as an elected official.” When asked if state taxpayers could be on the hook he said, “I'll make sure that doesn't occur.”

The attorney general's office didn't return multiple emails and calls seeking information on who is paying for the legal representation. His spokesman also didn't respond to questions about using his office for some communications on the topic.

Hill's actions at the March party were off state property and after hours. And Indiana Democrats don't want him using public resources to mount a defense.

“The Attorney General's office is not Curtis Hill's personal law firm or crisis communications shop,” said John Zody, chair of the Indiana Democratic Party. “Hoosier taxpayers shouldn't be fronting the cost of his defense. They deserve answers on if public resources are being diverted from official duties and toward Hill's personal defense.”

On July 12, the attorney general's office sent an email calling out one of the accusers who sent a draft of a column she was writing on the alleged sexual harassment to a friend who used to work in Hill's office. It showed up in the attorney general's email server and was attached to the release. 

That release was roundly criticized on Twitter and Hill's office has sent nothing related to the misconduct allegations since that date. Instead, the office has deluged Twitter and email accounts with news on drug takeback visits and unclaimed property.

Downs and Browning both agreed that hiring attorneys is outside the scope of his employment.

But Hill isn't the only one using state resources. Holcomb, Bosma and Long have all responded via official channels as well. Bosma and Long were initially approached as employers of the women –who all work for the Indiana General Assembly.

They hired an outside attorney to assess the situation, but no bill has yet been sent to the state so that cost is unknown.

The state inspector general is now investigating, using its routine appropriation of state dollars. And Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry is busy fighting for the appointment of a special prosecutor, which Hill's attorneys have objected to.

Hypothetically, Browning said, if the women at the bar had no connection to state government it might never have entered that realm.

“I feel he should have to pay for this out of his own pocket or his campaign's,” he said. “Just by engaging in the fight it is going to eat up taxpayer dollars.”

As of July 1, Hill's campaign had about $49,000 in cash on hand. 

nkelly@jg.net


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