Hill accusers ‘pleased’ Disciplinary Commission reviewing alleged sexual misconduct

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Editor's note: This story has been updated.

With news breaking that Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is facing formal attorney discipline charges for alleged sexual misconduct, the four women who have accused Hill of groping them say they are pleased their harassment is being taken seriously.

On Tuesday, the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed charges in the Indiana Supreme Court against Hill, a statewide elected official, alleging he violated Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(b) and (d) and Admission and Discipline Rule 22 when he allegedly groped Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, her legislative aide Samantha Lozano, Senate Democratic communications director Gabrielle McLemore and Senate Republican aide Niki DaSilva.

“The filing today was not in response to any action we took, as we did not file a grievance with the Indiana Disciplinary Commission,” the four women said in a joint statement. “However, we are pleased to see that the sexual harassment and battery we faced from Curtis Hill is being taken seriously and that his ethics as the state’s highest legal officer are being reviewed.”

The alleged sexual misconduct took place in the early morning hours of March 15, 2018, when legislators, Statehouse staffers and lobbyists gathered at AJ’s Lounge in Indianapolis to celebrate the end of the 2018 legislative session. At the party, Hill allegedly rubbed his hand down Reardon’s bare back, which was exposed in a backless dress, before grabbing or touching her buttocks. The Munster Democrat said she told the AG to “back off,” but he later returned, touched her back again and said “that skin, that back.”

Similarly, Hill allegedly rubbed McLemore’s back “for a significant period of time” while she was seated at the bar at AJ’s. According to the complaint and multiple previous reports, he initially approached the communications director by saying, “Do you know who I am?” McLemore was able to leave the situation by mouthing “help me” to a friend, and she recounted the incident to another legislative staffer later that night.

DaSilva was also at the bar when Hill allegedly approached her and a group of women and told them to “show some skin” to get their drinks faster. Later, the AG allegedly ran his hand down DaSilva’s back, prompting her to try to brush him away. Instead, according to the complaint, Hill grabbed DaSilva’s hand and put both of their hands on her buttocks.

Finally, the allegations as to Lozano claim Hill asked her if she knew who he was, and Lozano responded by saying she had attended school with his daughter. Lozano then made a comment about the room being hot, and Hill allegedly responded by saying, “Yes, you are really hot.”

Lozano was then near the bar when Hill allegedly wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close to him. Lozano was able to move away when another person stepped between her and Hill.

Such misconduct, according to the complaint, would be Class B misdemeanor battery under Indiana Code section 35-42-2-1(c). Additionally, Hill’s alleged use of force “to compel DaSilva to submit to the unconsented touching of her back and buttocks” would be Level 6 felony sexual battery under Indiana Code section 35-42-4-8(a).

However, Daniel Sigler, the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the allegations against Hill, declined last year to press criminal charges against the attorney general. Sigler said he believed the four women but couldn’t prove that Hill intended to touch them in a “rude, insolent or angry manner,” as is required by statute.

In filing the disciplinary charges against Hill, the Disciplinary Commission noted that as Indiana’s chief legal officer, the AG “holds a position of extreme public trust” and, as a government lawyer, “has a heightened duty of ethical conduct that is long establish in Indiana ethics law.”

“The respondent’s ethical violations and offensive conduct reflect poorly on the legal profession and does incalculable harm to the public perception of the Attorney General’s office and all the state agencies it represents.”

For his part, Hill has vehemently denied the allegations against him, which were made public last July after an internal Statehouse investigation. In the immediate aftermath, he held a press conference in his Statehouse office, where he maintained his innocence and vowed to restore his good name.

Hill has also questioned the veracity of his accusers’ stories, at one point releasing an email from DaSilva that he said showed coordination among the women. In preparing to go public as a Hill accuser in July, DaSilva emailed an employee of the AG’s Office to review her statement. However, that employee was no longer employed in the office, so DaSilva’s email was forwarded and reached the AG’s desk.

His responses, the commission alleges, is proof that Hill “has denied responsibility for his actions” and “lacks remorse for his misconduct.” The commission noted that when Hill was initially confronted about the allegations by legislative leaders last summer, he admitted to having too much to drink on the night of the party.

“Thereafter, the respondent changed his story and claimed that he was not inebriated,” the commission wrote. “The respondent has held public news events in his role as Attorney General in which he denounced the allegations as untrue and implied the victims falsified their accounts. Later, the respondent portrayed the victims as mistaken or misperceiving his conduct.”

The commission further alleges Hill “acted with the selfish motive to arouse his sexual desires.”

“The respondent’s conduct caused actual or potential injury to his victims and their future careers by forcing them to choose between reporting his conduct or remaining silent,” the complaint says. “Three of the respondent’s four victims (DaSilva, Lozano and McLemore) were women in their early 20s, had just begun their careers in government, and were subject to sexual misconduct by a powerful state official.”

Hill’s office did not respond to messages from Indiana Lawyer seeking comment about the disciplinary complaint, nor has the Attorney General’s Office put out an official statement. But in a statement released through Donald Lundberg, an Indianapolis attorney representing the AG in the disciplinary process, Hill said he "remains focused on serving the people of Indiana."

"This matter has been investigated three times," Lundberg said in the statement. "There was an investigation undertaken by the General Assembly, another by the inspector general and, finally, one by the special prosecutor. And after having reviewed all the information, all three reached the same conclusion: no further action was warranted."

"…This matter will be addressed through the proper process outlined for disciplinary complaints in the State of Indiana," Lundberg continued, "and we are confident it will conclude in a manner consistent with the results of the prior investigations."

Though Hill is not facing criminal charges for the sexual misconduct allegations, his accusers have announced plans to pursue a civil suit for damages against the attorney general. So far, the women have filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a tort claim notice with Hill’s office announcing their plans to sue Hill, his office and the state.

Kevin Betz, an Indianapolis attorney who is representing Hill in the EEOC charge, said it is much too early to know if the disciplinary action will have any impact on a potential civil suit. Betz stressed that he is representing Hill only in the civil matter, not in the disciplinary action.

Hill has 30 days to respond to the commission’s complaint, and the Indiana Supreme Court will make the ultimate decision as to what sanctions, if any, are appropriate. While the formal complaint filed with the Supreme Court against Hill is public, any underlying complaints filed with the Disciplinary Commission that led to a commission investigation are not. Thus, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court declined to comment on how many complaints have been filed against the AG with the commission.

In its complaint, the Disciplinary Commission urges the Supreme Court to discipline Hill “as warranted” for his misconduct and to assess the costs of the proceeding against him. However, the complaint does not recommend a sanction or amount.

If Hill is disciplined, the sanction could potentially prohibit him from serving as attorney general or in any legal capacity. Disbarred and suspended attorneys are prohibited from conducting legal work for as long as their sanctions are in place, but the court could also impose a public or private reprimand, which does not necessarily preclude an attorney from working in a legal capacity. The high court could also decline to impose any disciplinary sanction.

Since the sexual misconduct allegations became public, pressure has been mounting for Hill to resign. State leaders from both parties — including Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma and then-Senate President Pro Tem David Long, all fellow Republicans — have called on the AG to step down, saying his misconduct was not becoming of an elected official.

Reardon filed a series of bill with the 2019 General Assembly that laid out a protocol for removing elected officials, including the attorney general, who face substantiated claims of sexual misconduct, but her legislation did not gain traction. Meanwhile, Indianapolis Democrat Rep. Ed DeLaney, who is also an attorney, has sought an impeachment investigation against the AG.

In a statement released Tuesday, House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, repeated the call for Hill’s resignation.

“I am pleased to see that the Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission has taken the allegations against Attorney General Hill seriously,” GiaQuinta wrote. “I certainly believe the women in this case and echo statements made by my fellow legislative leaders calling for Attorney General Hill to resign. The chief law enforcement officer of our state should be held to the highest standard of decorum and it’s clear the attorney general cannot meet that standard.”

The disciplinary case is  In the Matter of: Curtis T. Hill, Jr., 19S-DI-00156.

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