Indiana attorney general argues suspension doesn't oust him

In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill arrives for a hearing at the state Supreme Court at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. Hill’s law license will be suspended for 30 days over an allegation that he drunkenly groped four women during a party, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday, May 11, 2020. The unanimous court decision said that the state’s attorney disciplinary commission “proved by clear and convincing evidence that (Hill) committed the criminal act of battery.”

INDIANAPOLIS — Lawyers for Attorney General Curtis Hill say Gov. Eric Holcomb has no right to intervene in the disciplinary case that led to Hill having his law license suspended for 30 days beginning today.

In fact, his attorney, Donald Lundberg, maintains that in spite of the suspension, Hill remains qualified to hold the attorney general’s office.

“The respondent will continue to be duly licensed to practice law between May 18 and June 17, 2020, even though he will not be authorized to practice law during that time,” Lundberg wrote in a motion filed Friday with the Indiana Supreme Court, adding there is no reason to grant the governor’s motion.

Holcomb filed a motion with the court Tuesday saying that if the 30-day suspension means that Hill doesn’t have the necessary qualifications to hold the office, then there is a question about whether the position is vacant. And if it’s vacant, the governor’s motion argued, then Holcomb should appoint a successor to fill the rest of the term. Both Hill and Holcomb are Republicans.

The state’s top court, in a unanimous decision, suspended Hill’s law license for 30 days beginning May 18 for his behavior at a party marking the end of the 2018 legislative session. Holcomb was among numerous state leaders of both political parties who called on Hill to resign.

A hearing officer for the state’s disciplinary commission heard evidence in October that he grabbed and groped four women—a legislator and three staff members—at the gathering and recommended a 60-day suspension of his law license with no automatic reinstatement.

The Supreme Court had asked lawyers for Hill and the disciplinary commission to respond to the governor’s motion. Lawyers for the disciplinary commission said they didn’t object to Holcomb’s intervention in the case and had no opinion on the process to replace Hill.

Lundberg countered that “the governor’s motion does not neutrally pose the question whether the court’s 30-day suspension creates a vacancy in the respondent’s public office. It essentially advocates that it does, thereby allowing the governor to fill the vacancy with his own appointee.”

In addition, Lundberg said it was inappropriate for nonparties to intervene in a disciplinary case, noting the disciplinary commission’s hearing office refused to allow the person who filed the original complaint against Hill to participate in the proceedings.

He also argued that in cases involving local prosecutors, the court named a temporary, not a permanent, replacement to fill the position.

Lundberg said that Holcomb’s position in seeking to declare the attorney general’s office vacant is a dangerous one.

“It could be used as a political trap,” he wrote. “If the court adopts his position, an attorney general (or a county prosecutor, for that matter) whose law license is suspended for a day due to a deficiency in continuing legal education hours or failure to timely pay his annual registration fee would be subject to the county clerk certifying the vacancy of the office to the governor and the governor appointing his choice of officeholder for the remainder of the unexpired term.”

The court is expected to reach a decision on the issues raised by Holcomb’s motion early next week.

Hill, a former Elkhart County prosecutor, is running for a second term and faces opposition from Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter and Indianapolis lawyer John Westercamp. In addition, former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita has said he may seek the nomination.

The Republican nominee will be selected at the party’s state convention, which will be held in a virtual format on June 20.

TheStatehouseFile.com is a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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