Despite a push from Indiana House lawmakers to clarify in state code whether Attorney General Curtis Hill could remain in office if his law license is suspended, state legislators failed to pass a bill before adjourning this year’s session Wednesday night.
The Republican-controlled Indiana House earlier this month added language to a bill that would have required the attorney general to forfeit the office if he or she were disbarred from or suspended from practicing law for 30 or more days. Such a forfeiture would create a vacancy in the office, which would be filled by the governor.
The amendment, added to Senate Bill 178, would have also prevented anyone who had been disbarred or had his or her law license suspended for 30 days or more within the past five years from running for the office.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said he supported the measure. But the Republican-controlled Indiana Senate did not agree with it.
On Wednesday, Republican senators offered a compromise that would have only addressed whether someone could run for office if his or her law license was suspended without automatic reinstatement.
But the overall Senate GOP caucus did not support that language, and House Republicans also rejected it.
Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said his caucus talked at length about it, but “at the end of the day there was concerns about the timing of it.”
The debate cropped up in response to questions over whether Hill could remain the state government’s top lawyer if his law license is suspended over allegations that he drunkenly groped a lawmaker and three legislative aides at a bar in 2018. Hill denies the accusations.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby presided over a four-day disciplinary trial for Hill and has recommended that the Indiana Supreme Court suspend Hill’s license for at least 60 days without automatic reinstatement.
Republican leaders previously said it was unclear whether Hill could remain in office if the Supreme Court — which will make the final decision on any discipline Hill should face — agreed with Selby.
Top Republicans, including former House Speaker Brian Bosma and Holcomb, have called on Hill to resign. Hill is seeking reelection.
Bray said it will be up to voters to decide whether Hill should serve another term.
The allegations against Hill include that he grabbed the buttocks of Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon at a bar a year ago and inappropriately touched and made unwelcome sexual comments toward three female legislative staffers — ages 23 to 26 at the time. A special prosecutor declined to file criminal charges, and the women have filed a federal lawsuit against Hill and the state accusing him of sexual harassment and defamation. That suit was dismissed last week, but Hill’s accusers have vowed to press on with their civil lawsuit.
Selby found that Hill used his state office “to intimidate the four women who alleged misconduct, three of whom were young women at the onset of their careers. (Hill’s) unwavering public campaign in defense of himself showed little restraint and amplified the impact of his conduct on the four women.”
Selby concluded that Hill committed a misdemeanor-level battery offense, but that the state attorney disciplinary commission didn’t prove the more serious allegation of sexual battery.
If Hill loses his license without automatic reinstatement, it could take more than a year for him to regain it.
Bosma previously said lawmakers were hoping to provide clarity in the law to be prepared for whenever the Supreme Court rules on the Hill case.
House Speaker Todd Huston said many lawmakers felt like clarity was needed, but “unfortunately, our Senate colleagues didn’t feel like that was necessary.”