March 11, 2020

Fate Uncertain On Path Forcing Out Indiana Attorney General

FILE - 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. - AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File

FILE - 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.

AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republicans who dominate the Indiana Legislature were at odds Wednesday over a proposal that would force the state attorney general from office if his law license is suspended over allegations that he drunkenly groped four women.

Leaders of the state House and Senate were still debating the proposal just hours before the expected adjournment of the year’s legislative session. The action came as Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill awaited a decision from the state Supreme Court on whether he would face any punishment for the alleged misconduct.

The House voted 83-9 last week for provisions that would prohibit anyone whose law license has been suspended for at least 30 days from serving as attorney general. Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby, who heard four days of testimony about the allegations in October, last month recommended that Hill’s law license be suspended for at least 60 days, writing that his “conduct was offensive, invasive, damaging and embarrassing” to the women.

House Speaker Todd Huston said the attorney general removal issue could be among the final ones decided and that House negotiators would be pushing for it.

“Obviously we passed it overwhelmingly, so we think it is good, appropriate language,” Huston said.

State law requires the attorney general to be “duly licensed to practice law in Indiana,” but it doesn't specify whether the person can continue serving after facing professional disciplinary action.

Senate Republican leaders have been noncommittal on the removal proposal, which GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb has endorsed as providing “clarity and certainty.”

Hill, who is seeking reelection this year, has denied wrongdoing and has resisted calls for his resignation from Holcomb and other state Republican leaders. A special prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges against Hill and a federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit filed by the women alleging sexual harassment and defamation by Hill. The judge ruled that the women didn’t establish that Hill violated federal law.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer, a Jasper Republican, floated a proposal that would prevent Hill from seeking reelection if the Supreme Court suspended his law license without automatic reinstatement, a punishment under which it could take a year for Hill to regain his license.

Many Senate Republicans were reluctant to go further in possibly forcing Hill out of office, Messmer said.

Two other Republicans are challenging Hill for the GOP nomination, which will be decided during the state party convention in June.

Hill is accused of grabbing Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon's buttocks and inappropriately touching and making unwelcome sexual comments toward three female legislative staffers — ages 23 to 26 at the time — during a party in March 2018 marking the end of that year’s legislative session.

The attorney general’s office said the removal provision “raises some legal concerns — and this kind of rushed proposal lacks transparency and leaves no opportunity for public input.”

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