October 28, 2019

After Four Days Of Testimony, What Happens Next With Curtis Hill's Disciplinary Case?

Original story from   IPBS-RJC

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Attorney General Curtis Hill walks into his disciplinary hearing.  - Brandon Smith/IPB News

Attorney General Curtis Hill walks into his disciplinary hearing.

Brandon Smith/IPB News

Attorney General Curtis Hill defended his law license at a nearly week-long disciplinary hearing. It featured 26 witnesses, hours of testimony and dozens of pieces of evidence. 

It stemmed from allegations he groped four women last year. Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon (D-Munster) and three legislative staffers – Samantha Lozano, Niki DaSilva and Gabrielle Brock – say Curtis Hill groped them at a party in March 2018.

They each testified on the first day of proceedings about that night and what they’ve experienced since. Reardon described Hill as a “creeper.” DaSilva says she felt “white hot anger” when he touched her. And Brock says she regrets coming forward because Hill hasn’t faced any consequences for his actions.

During the second day of the hearing, Hill’s attorneys focused on inaccuracies in a legislative memo prepared by an outside law firm last year about the incident. And they sought to excuse away Hill’s conduct as flirtatious behavior.

Hill’s attorneys kept trying to get the witnesses to describe Hill’s behavior as “gregarious” or “flirtatious.” But witnesses – most of them legislative staffers, from both parties – said it was creepy. One employee, Senate Republican staffer Donna Smith, called him “predatory” and says she saw Hill rub up against multiple women as they tried to pass by him at the bar.

House Speaker Brian Bosma and former Senate leader David Long testified about what happened in the wake of the incident – including an investigation by a private law firm hired by legislative leaders. It became clear in that testimony that before the accusations became public, Bosma and Long both believed the matter had been resolved. They only called for Hill to resign days after the allegations were published.

A former employee of Hill’s when he was Elkhart County prosecutor testified during the third day of the hearing that he made an explicit sexual advance to her.

Kathleen Bowers worked at the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s office when Curtis Hill was the elected prosecutor.

In allegations that became public for the first time Wednesday, she says Hill once saw her dance at a charity event. After that, he allegedly repeatedly talked to her at work about it – complimenting her performance and asking her for lessons.

Then, in December 2016, just before he became attorney general, Bowers says Hill came into her office and again mentioned dance lessons. She says the conversation clearly became about sex. And Bowers says he then leaned over her desk and, using an explicit, offensive term, said “We need to f*** because it would be hot.”

She turned him down but noted she never explicitly said no because she felt uncomfortable and needed to “joke” her way out of the situation.

Hill’s legal team began calling its witnesses Wednesday. The small handful of witnesses called for his defense included the owner of the bar where the alleged incidents took place and some of the party’s attendees.

The partygoers largely testified that they didn’t see Hill interact with any of his accusers – not that he didn’t, just that they didn’t notice it.

The bulk of the testimony came from lobbyist Tony Samuel, who brought Hill to the party. Samuel offered a strident defense of Hill. That included the statement that if Hill had done what he’s been accused of to achieve, in Samuel’s words “sexual gratification,” the women would’ve been touched more.

During the fourth and final day of testimony, Hill told his side of the story.

Hill denied allegations he inappropriately touched four women at a party last year.

The Republican Attorney General was questioned by his legal team on the witness stand during the morning portion of the hearing Thursday. He described being, in his words, “shocked” and “troubled” last year when he learned people accused him of acting inappropriately.

Hill – unlike many of the witnesses who’ve testified – says he wasn’t drunk or impaired at the party in question, a celebration of the end of the 2018 legislative session. And he says while he put his hand on many people’s backs, he denies touching anyone inappropriately or in a sexual manner.

One of his accusers says he rubbed her back; another says he touched her butt. And a third, Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon (D-Munster), says Hill “grabbed a handful of ass.”

Hill also testified that, after a leak to the press of a confidential memo detailing the allegations, he began to suspect the whole thing was a political attack.

He responded to the new allegation from a former employee in Elkhart County. Hill said on the witness stand he never propositioned the woman. Instead, he says he told her, “We could have been f***ing hot,” referring, he says, to a dance they could’ve done together at a charity event a year earlier.

Disciplinary Commission attorney Seth Pruden focused, when questioning Hill, on a series of emails over the last year – messages between Hill, some of his employees and outside consultants. One chain references getting background information on members of the Disciplinary Commission. It also proposes pitching a story to conservative media outlets that “Holcomb cronies” and “liberals” are driving the inquiry into the Republican attorney general.

What Comes Next?

It will be months before a final decision comes in Hill’s disciplinary case.

The nearly weeklong testimony must be compiled into one record both sides review. The parties then file what’s called their proposed findings with the hearing officer, former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby.

READ MORE: Indiana Week in Review / Curtis Hill's Disciplinary Hearing

All of that will probably take a couple months. And at that point, things are in Selby’s hands for a while. She’ll make a recommendation on what should happen to Curtis Hill, which could be anything from no action to a reprimand, probation to suspension of his license to disbarment.

But that’s not the end. Whichever side doesn’t like Selby’s recommendation petitions the Indiana Supreme Court to review the case. The five justices will make the final decision – but it will likely be well into 2020 before they do.

Contact Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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