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Suit against Hill could cost taxpayers; accusers to name state

October 26, 2018

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office is now in the process of investigating a complaint filed against it, the state and Attorney General Curtis Hill after four women who publicly accused Hill of groping them at a party filed official notice of a civil lawsuit. If the women succeed on their claims against state defendants, taxpayers could be on the hook to pay any judgments.  

A tort claim notice outlining potential state liability was filed by Indianapolis law firm Katz Korin Cunningham P.C. on behalf of State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, and three legislative aides: Niki DaSilva, legislative assistant for the Indiana Senate Republicans; Gabrielle McLemore, communications director for the Indiana Senate Democrats; and Samantha Lozano, legislative assistant for the Indiana House Democrats. According to the notice, the women intend to bring assault and battery, false imprisonment, defamation, false light invasion of privacy and Indiana Anti-SLAPP Statute claims against Hill, his office and the state. Hill admitted to touching them at a party celebrating the end of the legislative session in March. The notice was filed with the Office of the Attorney General on Oct. 23, the same day a special prosecutor declined to press criminal charges against Hill for his reported misconduct.

According to the tort claim notice, a report from the Indiana Inspector General and multiple news reports, Hill:

• Slid his hand down Reardon’s back and under her dress and groped her buttocks once, then attempted to do so a second time;

• Ran his entire hand up and down McLemore’s back;

• Put his arm around Lozano’s waist and pulled her close to him, and;

• Slid his hand down DaSilva’s back before placing both her hand and his on her buttocks.

If the claims proceed and a judgment is entered against any of the three state defendants, Indiana Code 34-13-3-17 allows a court to order a governmental entity to “levy and collect a tax to pay the judgment if there are insufficient funds available for that purpose.” Conversely, if the state successfully defends itself against the tort claim, a court can require, under I.C. 34-13-3-21, that the women pay the state’s attorney’s fees if their claims are found to be frivolous, unreasonable or groundless, or in bad faith.

Under I.C. 34-13-3-6, the women had 270 days to file notice of their claim with the AG’s Office. The office now has about two months to review and investigate the complaint, an apparent conflict of interest considering the complaint takes aim at Hill and his office, as well as the state. But some attorneys say these types of inquiries tend to be perfunctory at best, and the AG’s office has the discretion to hire outside counsel to defend against the lawsuit.

When asked about the possibility of hiring outside counsel, a spokeswoman for the AG’s Office directed all questions to Indianapolis law firm Voyles Vaiana Lukemeyer Baldwin & Webb, which represented Hill in the criminal investigation by the special prosecutor and inspector general. Jennifer Lukemeyer, an attorney with the firm, said she had no comment on the question of whether the Attorney General’s Office would hire outside counsel.

If the AG’s office opts not to hire outside counsel, I.C. 34-13-3-15 requires Hill to “defend, as chief counsel, the state and state employees … .” B.J. Brinkerhoff, a Katz Korin Cunningham attorney representing the women, said the firm trusts Hill’s office to “handle the investigation appropriately.”

If the women’s tort claim proceeds, the notice indicates their claims will be based not only on Hill’s conduct at the sine die party, but on his conduct in the months after the public revelations of the groping. After a report by a Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP attorney regarding Hill’s actions was leaked, the Attorney General went on the offensive, denying the accusations and claiming his reputation had been ruined.

Hill took specific aim at Reardon and DaSilva, claiming Reardon had admitted her allegations were “materially inaccurate” and publicly releasing DaSilva’s email address after she emailed a copy of a prepared press statement to an employee in the AG’s Office for review.

The women are also challenging Hill’s decision to hold a press conference in his Statehouse office to defend himself against the claims and to use official state Attorney General’s Office letterhead and social media accounts to garner support. They also claim his legal defense fund, “Fairness for Curtis Hill,” was created in an effort to discredit them.

In addition to the civil claims against the state, OAG and Hill in his official and individual capacity, the tort claim notice says the women “intend to bring several federal claims against the State of Indiana, the Office of the Attorney General, and Hill.” The claimants have already filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but that complaint is not a public record.

Once the tort claim is officially filed, Hill’s office will have 90 days to notify the women whether their claim has been approved or denied. If the claim is denied in whole or in part, the claimants can initiate a lawsuit, according to I.C. section 34-13-3-13.

Hill, a Republican, has defied calls for his resignation from Republican Gov Eric Holcomb and from key leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

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