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AG Hill using tax dollars for groping legal woes?

May 1, 2019
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The Office of the Indiana Attorney General has paid more than $29,000 for outside legal ethics counsel, and public records indicate thousands of dollars in tax money may have paid for legal services related to the fallout from the sexual misconduct accusations against Attorney General Curtis Hill.

According to public documents obtained by Indiana Lawyer, the Office of the Attorney General has entered into multiple contracts with Indianapolis attorneys for outside legal services – a practice that, on its face, is not uncommon for the OAG. But what is less common is that one of those contracts was drafted explicitly in response to groping allegations against Hill, while other contracts show significant amounts of public dollars were spent on “advisory legal counsel” paid to the state’s former top attorney ethics watchdog during the time when the attorney general was under criminal investigation.

Specifically, the OAG entered into a $10,000 contract last November with Indianapolis attorney Kevin Betz, who “shall serve as counsel for the OAG and Curtis T. Hill, Jr. in his professional capacity … in defense of any claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and/or any tort claims filed by Niki DaSilva, Samantha Lozano, Gabrielle McLemore and/or Mara (Candelaria) Reardon against the OAG and/or Curtis T. Hill, Jr. in his professional capacity… .” At IL deadline, the Betz & Blevins attorney had not been paid under that contract, which runs through Jan. 11, 2021.

Reardon, a Democratic state representative from Munster, and DaSilva, Lozano and McLemore, all legislative staffers, have accused Hill of groping them at a party in March 2018. Hill has denied the accusations, but the four women have filed charges against the state of Indiana with the EEOC and have filed a tort claim notice announcing their intent to sue the state, Hill and his office.

Separately, the Attorney General’s Office has paid $29,207 in public funds to attorney Donald Lundberg, and public records indicate portions of those payments were made during the pendency of Hill’s legal troubles.

Outside counsel

Lundberg, of Lundberg Legal LLC, has been under contract with the OAG since February 2017. The initial contract called for the former director of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission to receive no more than $25,000 between February 2017 and 2018 for “advisory legal counsel on issues involving conflicts of interest and compliance with ethical and professional obligations.” A second contract was executed under the same terms in February 2018 and was set to expire in February 2019. However, it was extended to last from December 2018 to June 2020, and Lundberg’s not-to-exceed amount rose to $60,000 under the extension.

EXTRA
Click here to view a timeline showing how payments increased following the investigation.

Under the “justification” section of the public contract, the OAG wrote Lundberg “has specialized knowledge and expertise in providing services needed by the State and is willing to provide such services.” The contract extension also notes Lundberg will “assist the OAG ethics officer to ensure the important considerations and obligations are carefully and appropriately addressed.”

Under the administration of former Attorney General Greg Zoeller, the OAG employed an internal ethics officer pursuant to state agency rules. The ethics officer would consult with the State Ethics Commission as needed, but the office never hired outside ethics counsel from 2009 to 2016.

Lundberg declined to provide details about the nature of his counsel to the OAG, citing Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6, which governs attorney-client privilege. Likewise, when asked for details about Lundberg’s contracts, the OAG referred Indiana Lawyer to the contracts’ general language.

Similarly, invoices for payments made to Lundberg pursuant to the contracts are heavily redacted — an act state officials say was necessary to protect attorney-client privilege — so it’s difficult to discern the exact nature of Lundberg’s legal work. Each line item on the invoices is classified generally as “communication,” “file review,” “meeting,” “research” or “drafting,” and unredacted entries show Lundberg, who was paid $295 an hour, billed the OAG for time spent making phone calls, sending emails, reviewing materials, researching, writing and editing.

Hill’s office, through a spokesman, said none of the money paid to Lundberg has gone for Hill’s private defense in an attorney discipline action against him, In The Matter of Curtis Theophilus Hill, 19S-DI-00156, even though Lundberg also is representing Hill in his disciplinary case. But the office neither confirmed nor denied that any of the payments to Lundberg went for legal work related to the groping allegations.

Instead, OAG spokesman Christopher Proffitt referred Indiana Lawyer to five state invoices — invoices that reveal a timeline showing that the bulk of Lundberg’s work for Hill’s office has so far occurred while the AG was in the thick of the fallout of the sexual misconduct accusations.

Ballooning payments

The five invoices — one paid in fiscal year 2018 and four paid in fiscal year 2019 — show the Attorney General’s Office paid Lundberg roughly $2,700 between April and October 2017 and roughly $8,100 between April and June 2018. But the amount Lundberg received from the OAG began to skyrocket in August 2018, roughly one month after allegations that Hill drunkenly groped the four women became public.

The groping allegations were made public in early July 2018, and state leaders immediately called on Hill to resign. But the AG vowed to stay in office and instead hired outside counsel and announced plans to form a nonprofit 501(c)(3) to fund his legal defense.

By July 24, a special prosecutor had been appointed to investigate the allegations, and the Indiana inspector general was beginning an investigation into whether Hill’s actions violated state ethics rules or were criminal in nature. 

There were few public developments surrounding the Hill allegations between July 24 and Oct. 23, the day special prosecutor Daniel Sigler announced he would not file criminal charges against Hill. But during that time, Sigler and Indiana Inspector General Lori Torres were working with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department to determine if criminal or ethical charges should be brought against Hill.

The invoices indicate Lundberg was likewise busy providing counsel to the OAG during the pendency of those investigations, racking up a $12,832.50 bill for services between Aug. 17 and Oct. 23. Lundberg’s legal work under the contract continued into December 2018, according to the invoices.

Between Oct. 24 and Dec. 18, the attorney billed $5,516.50 in services to Hill’s office. In total, the OAG paid the attorney $18,349 for the four months from August to December 2018 — roughly 69 percent more than the $10,858 the office paid to Lundberg for the 18 months before the groping allegations became public.

All told, Lundberg submitted invoices for 52 billable activities between August and December 2018, compared to the 25 activities billed between April 2017 and June 2018. Of those activities, Lundberg was paid the most for communication between August and December 2018, billing $6,490 for phone calls and emails. He also was paid $3,392.50 for file review, $4,867.50 for drafting, $2,950 for meetings and $649 for research.

Comparatively, from April 2017 to June 2018, Lundberg billed $5,310 for drafting, $4,218.50 for client communication, $560.50 for research, $354 for file review, $295 for a client meeting and $120 to obtain a transcript related to a disciplinary case. An invoice dated June 29, 2018 is titled “DAG defense,” indicating Lundberg was involved in defending a deputy attorney general.

Other payments?

It’s unclear whether Lundberg has performed legal services for the OAG in 2019, as no invoices on the Indiana Transparency Portal or provided to IL list services performed after Dec. 18. But Lundberg has been privately representing Hill since at least March 19, when the Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against the attorney general based on the groping allegations.

Because Lundberg is privately representing Hill in his individual capacity in the disciplinary matter, Hill should be paying him with personal funds not subject to public access laws.

Additionally, records indicate Lundberg has provided more services to the OAG than he has billed for. In a Feb. 1 email to the OAG, Lundberg says he did not “submit Invoice 158 ... for payment.”

Indiana Lawyer was provided with invoices 157, 159 and 160, all of which relate to legal services Lundberg rendered between Aug. 17 and Dec. 18.•

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Inspector General's Office investigated Attorney General Curtis Hill for ethical violations and criminal conduct. 

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