Indiana governor backs path for forcing out attorney general

Indiana’s governor is endorsing a proposal that could force the state’s attorney general from office if his law license is suspended over allegations he drunkenly groped a state legislator and three other women.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a statement Thursday that he supports a bill endorsed by the Indiana House that would prohibit anyone whose law license has been suspended for at least 30 days from serving as attorney general.

That action came as Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill awaits a decision from the state Supreme Court on whether he’ll face any punishment for the alleged professional misconduct. Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby, who heard four days of testimony about the allegations in October, last month recommended that Hill’s law license be suspended for at least 60 days without automatic reinstatement, writing that his “conduct was offensive, invasive, damaging and embarrassing” to the women.

State law requires the attorney general to be “duly licensed to practice law in Indiana” but doesn’t specify whether the person can continue serving after facing professional disciplinary action.

“Clarity and certainty are always good,” Holcomb’s statement said. “The House has provided both for anyone who holds the office of attorney general. I would support and sign the bill if it came to my desk.”

Hill, who is seeking reelection this year, has denied wrongdoing and resisted calls for his resignation from Holcomb and other state Republican leaders. A special prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges against Hill, and a federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the women alleging sexual harassment and defamation by Hill. The judge ruled the women didn’t establish that Hill violated federal law.

Hill is accused of grabbing Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon’s buttocks and inappropriately touching and making unwelcome sexual comments toward three female legislative staffers during a party in March 2018.

The Republican-dominated House voted 83-9 Monday in favor of the attorney general removal provision. The bill is pending with the state Senate, which must approve it by next week’s end of the legislative session for it to become law.

The attorney general’s office said the provision “raises some legal concerns — and this kind of rushed proposal lacks transparency and leaves no opportunity for public input.”

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, a Martinsville Republican, said Thursday that while he and other senators were still discussing the House proposal, he recognized that legislators hadn’t previously contemplated an attorney general being subjected to a law license suspension.

“This issue has been evolving even through this legislative session because we didn’t have the (disciplinary) recommendation when we started in January,” Bray said. “So, these things have come to light and it’s been recognized as an issue.”

The uncertainty surrounding Hill’s ability to remain in office if he is sanctioned has been a key theme among political leaders discussing the sexual misconduct allegations. The Indiana Supreme Court will have the final say on what, if any, discipline Hill should face.

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