Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill’s ability to remain in office could be even further in jeopardy now that the Indiana House has adopted language that would disqualify for the office any attorney whose law license is suspended for 30 days or more.
Rep. Timothy Wesco, a Republican from Osceola, offered the amendment to Senate Bill 178, which passed with an 84-9 vote.
The amendment changes the statutory language describing the qualifications of the attorney general to exclude an attorney who has been disbarred or suspended for 30 days or more. Further, AG candidates cannot have been disbarred or suspended for 30 days or more in the last five years.
“The question I put before this body is whether it’s acceptable for the attorney general to hold a suspended law license,” Wesco told the House. “If you vote no, you’re saying it is OK. If you vote yes, you’re saying it is not OK.”
If SB 178 is enacted as amended, the new statutory language could have a direct bearing on Hill. The embattled Republican is facing a recommendation that from hearnig officer and former Justice Myra Selby that he serve a 60-day suspension without automatic reinstatement for misdemeanor battery against four women. The Indiana Supreme Court ultimately will decide what punishment, if any, Hill receives.
The women — State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, Gabrielle McLemore Brock, Niki DaSilva and Samantha Lozano — say Hill drunkenly groped them at a legislative party in 2018, but Hill has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Reardon voted in favor of the amendment.
Timing will be everything as the discipline case against Hill proceeds.
He’s currently in the midst of a crowded re-election campaign, where he first has to defeat Indianapolis attorney John Westercamp and former Revenue Commissioner Adam Krupp at the Indiana Republican Convention in June. If he earns the GOP nomination, Hill then would run on the November ballot against the Democratic nominee, either State Sen. Karen Tallian or former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel.
If the Indiana Supreme Court accepts Selby’s recommendation and Hill is ordered to serve a 60-day suspension before the June convention or November election, he would have to leave the campaign trail.
Or, if Hill wins re-election but the court does not impose the discipline until after he begins his second term, he would have to resign. The statutory amendment holds that the governor — currently Republican Eric Holcomb — would appoint a successor.
Holcomb and legislative leaders from both parties have repeatedly called for Hill’s resignation. Like the AG, Holcomb is facing re-election in November.
Even if the justices don’t accept Selby’s recommended discipline, there’s still a chance Hill could be forced out of office or off the ballot. The amendment disqualifies any attorney suspended for 30 days or more, though candidates are only disqualified if that suspension has occurred in the last five years.
A punishment more severe than Selby’s recommendation, such as a longer suspension or disbarment, would also disqualify Hill from office. But anything less than a 30-day suspension – such as a public or private reprimand, or no discipline at all – would not keep him from office.
Among the lawmakers voting against the amendment to SB 178 were Republican Reps. Bruce Borders, Randy Lyness, Curt Nisly, Christy Stutzman, David Wolkins and John Young, and Democratic Reps. John Bartlett, Robin Shackleford and Vernon Smith.
Democratic Reps. Ryan Dvorak and Ed DeLaney each supported Wesco’s amendment, but they questioned him on its intent.
Dvorak asked Wesco whether the language was meant to keep Hill off the ballot, but Wesco instead said the amendment addresses the qualifications for all AG candidates going forward. Similarly, speaking to DeLaney, Wesco said he categorizes the situation surrounding Hill’s law license as being in the future, so the amendment could affect the incumbent AG.
DeLaney had a succinct response to the amendment: “This is impeachment in disguise.”
Lawmakers last year declined to bring impeachment proceedings against Hill despite some, including DeLaney, urging the General Assembly to do so.
SB 178 still has a ways to go before it is enacted.
It must now survive a final vote in the House, then return to the Senate, which will consider the amended bill. If the Senate accepts the amendments, the bill would then go to Holcomb, who could veto the legislation, sign it or let it take effect without his signature.
But if the Senate doesn’t accept the amendment, the legislation would go to conference committee for further discussion between both houses.
In a statement, the Office of the Attorney General said the amendment “raises some legal concerns – and this kind of rushed proposal lacks transparency and leaves no opportunity for public input.”