Repeatedly claiming “false and malicious” statements were included in a confidential memo containing allegations of sexual misconduct by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, Indianapolis attorney Kevin Betz announced he is preparing a defamation lawsuit on the AG’s behalf.
Betz and his law partner Sandra Blevins held a press conference Wednesday in the lobby of their Indianapolis law firm, Betz & Blevins, to announce the possible suit. Speaking at a podium cluttered with microphones, Betz said his law firm is evaluating possibly filing a lawsuit on behalf of Hill against the unknown individual or individuals who included what he called false and flawed information in the memo, then released it to the public.
Hill has been accused by Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, and three legislative staffers of groping them during a party to celebrate the end of the 2018 session of the General Assembly. The allegations came to light when a memo about an internal investigation into the women’s claims was leaked to the Indianapolis Star.
Immediately after the memo was released, legislative leaders focused on finding the person responsible for giving the document to the media. A few days later amid public uproar, the leaders, as well as Gov. Eric Holcomb, called for Hill to resign.
Hill has pushed back, denying he inappropriately touched the women and calling the allegations “vicious and false.” He is being represented by Voyles Vaiana Lukemeyer Baldwin &Webb in his push against the appointment of a special prosecutor to assist the Indiana Inspector General’s investigation into the groping accusations.
Betz & Belvins are apparently representing Hill in a potential defamation lawsuit. However, Betz said no complaint has been filed and, at this point, they are still analyzing the situation. In addition, Betz said he is not being paid for his work, although he shied away from characterizing it as pro bono, and said he has not calculated the number of hours he has spent on this case so far.
Speaking to reporters, Betz and Blevins were careful to say they respected the women accusers and their right to come forward. They also maintained they were not calling the women liars.
“As practitioners in this area for almost 50 years, we are also familiar with situations in which there is no liar, there is no false allegations by individuals, they’re both correct,” Betz said “As Ms. Blevins said, in situations that occur in the time period between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. with alcohol flowing, perceptions are a very difficult thing to come to a firm conclusion about. And sometimes no one’s wrong, no one’s right, they’re both right and these are simply different perspectives and conclusions.”
Betz and Blevins also said they do not fault the author of the memo, Blake Burgan, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister. Burgan was hired by the Legislative Services Agency to answer a series of questions about the investigation into the claims that General Assembly leaders were conducting.
“It is unusual, in our opinion, for someone to provide legal advice in this way without having personally interviewed the witnesses,” Blevins said. “But we do know Mr. Burgan to be a confident and careful practitioner.”
Betz and Belvins repeatedly cited Burgan’s memo as concluding that Hill is honest, trustworthy and fit as a lawyer.
However, the description is part of Burgan’s answer to the legislators’ question about whether they had to report the Attorney General’s alleged behavior to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. The memo stated, “Moreover, even if an attorney knew that AG Hill engaged in such conduct, we do not believe that such conduct on an isolated basis raises a substantial question as to his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”
Betz claimed the information in the memo was fabricated because it did not align with the statements Reardon and two other accusers have made to the media. Specifically, Betz pointed out the memo indicates Reardon said Hill reached under her clothes and grabbed his buttocks twice, but in her personal statement she said she was grabbed just once.
“To go from one touching over the clothing to two underneath the clothing is – and when there’s at least a month with which to get that information correct – that’s hard to believe it is anything other than a fabrication,” Betz said.
He conceded bringing a defamation lawsuit on behalf of a public figure, like Hill, requires the showing of an actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth.
“We believe the false and malicious information can even meet that higher bar,” Betz said. “…With malice and negligence, the statement was published and it caused enormous damages and has continued to cause enormous damages to Mr. Hill.”
In a joint statement released Wednesday afternoon House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President pro tem David Long said "Curtis Hill is the individual who should be answering questions about allegations of inappropriate conduct, and we stand by our prior statements regarding this matter."
"We are fulling cooperating with the Inspector General's Office as they conduct their current investigation and await the results," the legislative leaders said.