Filing: Statehouse lawyers, officials tried to question Hill accusers

Details continue to emerge in the sexual misconduct lawsuit against Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill and the state of Indiana. New allegations contained in an amended complaint shed additional light on the responses of Statehouse officials to groping and harassment allegations made by four women.

In the amended complaint filed in the Indiana Southern District Court last week, legislative staffers Gabrielle McLemore, Niki DaSilva and Samantha Lozano each allege they were approached and/or questioned by Statehouse lawyers and other high-ranking personnel in the weeks after they filed their harassment and discrimination complaint against Hill and the state. State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, is also a named plaintiff, but she does not allege that she was approached by the lawyers.

The four women filed their civil lawsuit on June 18. “On June 28, 2019, at approximately 1:30 p.m., Ms. McLemore was approached at her desk by Jeff Papa…, the Chief of Staff for the Republican Party,” the amended complaint reads, adding that Jennifer Mertz, chief legal counsel for the Senate Republicans, was also part of the meeting. “… Papa asked Ms. McLemore if he could speak with her about the claims in the lawsuit.

“Ms. McLemore told Papa and Mertz that she could not speak about the case without her attorney present. Papa told Ms. McLemore that she did not need an attorney,” the complaint continues. “Ms. McLemore again stated that she believed she should have her attorney present. Papa told Ms. McLemore that she did not. Ms. McLemore felt she had no choice but to speak to Papa or Mertz.”

According to the amended complaint, Mertz took notes while Papa asked McLemore, communications director for the Senate Democrats, about allegations in the complaint against Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, Rep. Phil GiaQuinta and Sen. Tim Lanane, Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, respectively, and John Schwantes, an Indianapolis political talk show host.

McLemore has alleged that in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations against Hill, each of the four men made insensitive remarks about the Legislature’s annual sine die celebration, where Hill’s misconduct is alleged to have occurred in 2018. McLemore has alleged that GiaQuinta, Lanane and Schwantes have made jokes about Hill attending the 2019 celebration, which was cancelled, while Taylor expressed concern that reports about the 2018 event were painting male lawmakers in a negative light.

The amended complaint then alleges that, also on June 28, Papa and Mertz approached DaSilva, a Senate Republican aide, with questions about the allegations in the original complaint. DaSilva insisted that she wanted to speak with her lawyer first, then emailed Papa and Mertz the next week declining their request to ask them questions.

Likewise, Lozano, a House Democratic aide, alleges she was approached by Graham Fishell, chief of staff for the House Democrats, Alexus Tucker, director of legislative affairs, and Noelle Sykes, chief counsel for the House Republicans. The three said they wanted to ask about allegations in the complaint, including a claim that Hill stood very close to Lozano at a Latino Advocacy Day event to physically intimidate her.

Like DaSilva, Lozano said she did not feel comfortable discussing the allegations without her attorneys present.

The amended complaint also claims that while McLemore was attending the Indiana Black Expo Luncheon in July, she noticed a group of people at the same table pointing at her. The whole table then turned to look, and McLemore discovered Hill and one of his staffers were seated at that table.

The three attorneys representing the four women — B.J. Brinkerhoff, Kimberly Jeselskis and Hannah Kaufman Joseph, all of Katz Korin Cunningham in Indianapolis — did not respond to a request for information about the specific questions the Statehouse leaders wanted to or did ask the women. Papa, in an email to Indiana Lawyer, said he could not comment on the pending litigation, but said the state’s forthcoming answer to the amended complaint would provide more information.

Changes were also made to the specific counts listed against the defendants. Specifically, the sexual harassment and discrimination claim against the state brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was dropped from the amended complaint, as was the retaliation claim brought against the state under the same statute.

Though no claims against Hill were dropped, the plaintiffs’ amended complaint now seeks an injunction against Hill that prohibits him from violating their constitutional rights, specifically their substantive due process and anti-retaliation rights under Section 1983.

The Katz Korin Cunningham attorneys did not respond to questions about why the Section 1983 claims against the state were dropped, or why injunctive relief is now being sought against Hill.

Hill, who is being represented by both a private firm and his office based on claims brought against him individually and in his official capacity, had previously filed a motion to dismiss the civil lawsuit.  He’s since filed a motion to strike the amended complaint, arguing it is “improper” and untimely.

Meanwhile, the Indiana House and Senate have moved to intervene in the case, arguing Hill’s office cannot properly represent their interests.

The case is DaSilva, et al. v. State of Indiana, and Hill, 1:19-cv-02453.

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