Call for AG Hill to resign arises amid harassment investigation

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill was investigated this year after four women claimed he touched them inappropriately at a bar. Hill was investigated by the same law firm that recently drew an ethics complaint for its handling of a separate investigation that cleared a powerful Ohio lawmaker. Meanwhile, Indiana’s Democratic Party leader has called on Hill to resign.

The Indianapolis Star obtained an eight-page memo written by the law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister, which wrote the document for legislative leaders who investigated the allegations against Hill.

The memo states that a lawmaker and three legislative staffers said Hill inappropriately touched them at a party in the early morning hours of March 15, shortly after Indiana’s legislative session came to a close.

Hill, a Republican, denied the allegations, calling them “deeply troubling.”

“At no time was my behavior inappropriate nor did I touch anyone in an inappropriate manner,” Hill said in a statement to the newspaper. He also said he was never contacted by an investigator and that he hasn’t “been informed of who made these allegations.”

But legislative leaders said in a joint statement on Monday that the investigation was completed and “the matter has been addressed with the Attorney General to the satisfaction of the employees involved.”

One of the accusers, who spoke to the newspaper on the condition that she not be identified, expressed anger over Hill’s denial.

She said she was satisfied that the investigation was conducted and that the women involved were treated fairly, but she said she was “disappointed that nothing can be done to censure him formally.”

“This was a pattern of behavior that was witnessed by many,” she told the newspaper.

On Tuesday, Indiana’s Democratic Party chairman urged Hill to resign. Chairman John Zody said the allegations against Hill are “beyond troubling and wildly inappropriate.”

Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer said the GOP has “zero tolerance for sexual harassment,” but stopped short of calling for Hill’s resignation.

Hill’s office did not respond to AP’s request for comment Tuesday morning. He previously denied the accusations.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb issued this statement Tuesday:

“I’m in a remote area of Montana with Janet celebrating our anniversary for a few days. I have limited information from media sources I’m able to access.

“We took great care to update our sexual harassment policies for the executive, legislative and judicial branches in the past few months. No one should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances. I commend House and Senate leaders for their immediate and formal follow up to the allegations presented to them.

“I’ll return to Indianapolis late tomorrow night. Until I’ve reviewed the facts in detail, I will have no further comment.”

The document, dated June 18, states that Hill’s alleged conduct toward the legislative employees may have been “inappropriate,” but was “likely not severe or pervasive enough to result in a hostile work environment.” However, the firm found that Hill’s conduct toward the lawmaker was “likely egregious enough to meet the threshold of ‘severe.’”

The memo includes details from interviews conducted with six women who attended the end-of-session party.

The lawmaker said an intoxicated Hill put his hands on her back, slid them down her back, put them under her clothes and grabbed her buttocks, according to the memo. She told him to “back off” and walked away, but Hill approached her again later and again reached under her clothing and grabbed her. She again told him to “back off,” according to the memo.

The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assaults unless they come forward publicly.

The investigating law firm, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, was recently hit with an ethics grievance over a separate investigation into harassment allegations leveled at another powerful Republican elected official — this one in Ohio. Like the Hill investigation, Taft concluded that the conduct of the Ohio lawmaker was “inappropriate,” but not in violation of state harassment policies.

The law firm investigated Ohio House Majority Leader Bill Seitz over comments he made while speaking at a retirement party on April 25. The complaint was made against Seitz after a roast in January 2018 for chief of staff Mike Dittoe. According to the report from the investigation, Seitz said he made jokes about two women representatives and about former Sen. Cliff Hite, who resigned in October 2017 and admitted to acting inappropriately toward a female state employee. Seitz told the Taft attorneys he referenced the Marvin Gaye song, “Let’s Get it On,” when speaking of Hite and described some representatives as wearing a “tin foil hat,” as an allusion to someone believing in conspiracy theories.

Advocacy groups in Ohio filed a grievance against Taft after the investigation because Seitz for two reasons: The lawmaker previously had worked for Taft for more than 30 years, and Taft had made a campaign contribution to Seitz at the same time it was investigating him.

A cursory Indiana Lawyer search of available online campaign contributions found Taft has made no reported donations directly to Hill through the end of 2017. A spokesperson for Taft did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment Tuesday. 

Hill, a former Elkhart County prosecutor, has been viewed as a rising Republican star. He was the single greatest vote-getter in Indiana history when he was elected to office in 2016.

In May, he warmed up the crowd at a rally held by President Donald Trump in Hill’s native Elkhart.  He’s also visited the White House several times since Trump took office. In response to the allegations against him, Hill released this statement to media:

“These allegations are deeply troubling.

“Following dinner, I was invited to AJ’s lounge for the legislative end of session party.

“The celebration at AJ’s was very crowded with, legislators, lobbyists, staffers and others. The atmosphere was light and jovial, as would be expected in a bar.

“I interacted with several people — talking, laughing, and telling stories. At no time was my behavior inappropriate nor did I touch anyone in an inappropriate manner.

“While the celebration continued, I left with the gentleman who had invited me and went home.

“I have never been contacted by any investigator. I have not been informed of who made these allegations nor have I been provided any due process with regard to these vicious allegations.

“The lack of due process regarding this prejudicial investigation is concerning. I have never received a copy of this ‘confidential’ report along with the specific allegations made against me. While meeting with legislative leaders yesterday I requested a copy of this report but my request was denied despite the fact that the legislature acknowledged they had given it to the media. There is a fundamental lack of fairness to this entire process.” 

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