4 attorneys assigned to abortion-related litigation resign from Indiana AG’s office; Rokita says departures unrelated to Bernard case

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Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita gives a press conference in September 2022 regarding abortion laws. (IL file photo)

With key hearings scheduled in licensing and civil litigation against Indianapolis OB-GYN Dr. Caitlin Bernard this month, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office will be down four attorneys who worked on the case but have now resigned.

Three of the four were section chiefs for Attorney General Todd Rokita.

The Indiana Auditor’s Office — which is notified of personnel changes for payroll purposes — confirmed the recent departures.

Rokita’s office did not respond to numerous requests for information, including resignation letters, but the attorney general himself denied that the staff resignations were related to the Bernard case.

“I have no idea,” Rokita told the Indiana Capital Chronicle when asked last month about the four departing employees. “We have people coming in and out all the time. It’s a 400-person office. I think we’re doing better for the beginning of the year than we have in past years.”

Rokita maintains that Bernard “failed to immediately report the abuse and rape of a child to Indiana authorities” after performing an abortion on a 10-year-old girl from Ohio in June.

He additionally contends that Bernard “failed to uphold legal and Hippocratic responsibilities” by “exploiting a 10-year-old little girl’s traumatic medical story to the press for her own interests.”

Who left the AG’s office?

Caryn Nieman-Szyper, assistant section chief in the Administrative and Regulatory Enforcement Litigation Section, was the first to leave the office on Feb. 24.

She joined the Attorney General’s Office in 2013 as a deputy attorney general and worked in both the Civil Litigation and Criminal Appeals sections, according to her staff biography.

A judge withdrew Nieman-Szyper from Bernard’s civil litigation case on Feb. 27.

Several weeks later on March 19, Nieman-Szyper’s superior — Jeff Garn, the section chief for Administration and Regulatory Litigation — transferred to the Indiana Office of Administrative Law Proceedings. He was withdrawn from the Bernard case March 22, according to court files.

Two other section chiefs resigned effective March 31.

Aaron Craft, who oversaw Civil Appeals, was responsible for “some of the most complex cases and legal issues facing state government and state officials in both state and federal court,” per his biography published by the Attorney General’s Office.

He was removed from the Bernard case on March 29.

Also resigned is Mary Hutchison, a former prosecutor in Marion and Madison counties who joined Rokita’s office in 2021 as head of the Licensing Enforcement Division.

Hutchison was tasked with weighing the merits of complaints fielded by the Attorney General’s Office against Bernard. She wasn’t a listed attorney in the civil case but was brought to the stand for the state and questioned by Bernard’s lawyers for two hours during court proceedings in November.

Hutchison defended the office’s investigation into Bernard’s medical license and said at the time that she still had lingering questions surrounding Bernard’s “timely” notification to law enforcement about the 10-year-old’s abuse.

She maintained that her team was “unable to determine” whether Bernard spoke to Indianapolis law enforcement or Indiana’s Department of Child Services “immediately” following her first meeting with the patient.

After she was presented with evidence while on the stand that showed communication Bernard had with the hospital’s social work team, Hutchison said she still planned to investigate whether Bernard reported to the proper staff.

Hutchison said she was investigating whether Bernard first obtained written authorization from a patient or guardian allowing her to legally share protected health information to the media.

Bernard’s attorneys maintained it’s acceptable for doctors to share “de-identified” patient information.

Hutchison was listed on all documentation for the licensing complaint before the Indiana Medical Licensing Board.

Rokita points to high turnover, low pay

Garn declined to speak with the Capital Chronicle about his departure. The three other former employees did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Rokita maintained there have been “no issues” with any staff working on the Bernard case, but he suggested the recent departures might be due to pay.

While speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee in March, Rokita noted there were 200 attorneys in his office. About a dozen attorneys had left the Attorney General’s Office since January, he said, but “19 or so” had been hired in the same time period as a result of recent pay increases.

“Market conditions have created a demand for litigation attorneys far greater than I’m told the office has ever seen in the past and resulting in a significant number of vacancies,” Rokita told state lawmakers March 13. “We are losing attorneys leaving for higher salaries at a higher rate than ever before, I’m told.”

He emphasized that there’s a “pressing and immediate need” for the next state budget to increase salaries even more for attorneys in his office.

The state transparency portal indicates that Garn earned a $119,000 annual salary at the Attorney General’s Office. Hutchison made $117,000 per year, and Craft earned $114,000, according to the portal.

Nieman-Szyper’s salary had already been removed from the state transparency portal when the Capital Chronicle learned of her departure.

What’s next in the Bernard case?

Bernard is scheduled to appear May 25 before the Indiana Medical Licensing Board. A prehearing conference is set for April 27.

In the latest filings with the state licensing board, Bernard continues to maintain that her public comments about the 10-year-old’s case were within the bounds of HIPAA. She also argues that she “could not” have knowingly violated Indiana’s child abuse reporting law because her notification to authorities was consistent with policies in place at IU Health, where she practices.

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office into the doctor originally prompted a lawsuit from Bernard and her medical partner, Dr. Amy Caldwell.

Courtroom testimony and evidence appear to show Bernard communicated with Ohio authorities even before she administered abortion-inducing medication. She also reportedly notified the Indiana Department of Child Services a few days after the abortion.

Just days before Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch issued a ruling, Rokita sent the complaint against Bernard to the state medical licensing board. 

Although the move prompted Welch to deny an injunction request, she ruled that Rokita caused “irreparable harm” to the OB-GYN’s reputation and professional standing when he publicly discussed his office’s ongoing investigation into Bernard.

The doctor voluntarily withdrew her lawsuit against Rokita after the case shifted to an administrative licensing action. Her lawyers cited jurisdictional issues that would likely keep the case from moving forward.

Rokita’s office is now seeking to keep the case open and “correct errors” from the ruling. A hearing is scheduled before a Marion County judge on April 11.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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