Justices deny Holcomb’s request to clarify whether suspended AG Hill ‘vacates’office

The Indiana Supreme Court has denied Gov. Eric Holcomb’s request for clarification on whether now-suspended Attorney General Curtis Hill has temporarily vacated his office due to his suspension. The ruling means, at least for now, Hill’s chief deputy will remain in charge of the legal operations of the Indiana Office of the Attorney General.

The justices Monday declined Holcomb’s emergency motion to intervene seeking clarification, finding the governor’s intervention in Hill’s disciplinary case would be “inappropriate.”

The order, signed by Chief Justice Loretta Rush, comes the same day that Hill begins a 30-day suspension with automatic reinstatement for violations of Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(b) and (d) related to allegations that he drunkenly groped four women in 2018.  All justices concurred in the suspension and in the denial of the governor’s motion.

The disciplinary order came down May 11, and Holcomb filed his motion the next day, seeking clarity on the meaning of the statutory requirement that the attorney general be “duly licensed to practice law.” If the suspension meant Hill was not “duly licensed,” Holcomb argued, a vacancy in the office would be created that he would have to fill.

But the justices noted that Holcomb is a nonparty to the discipline case. Additionally, “(t)hese issues were not litigated by the parties and are extraneous to our disciplinary opinion, making intervention inappropriate.”

“Moreover, courts generally should not issue advisory opinions … or decide issues if there is no controversy before them,” the order continues. “… These principles, too, counsel for judicial restraint and against allowing intervention.”

Hill’s defense attorney, former commission head Donald Lundberg, had urged the court to reject the intervention motion, arguing it was not proper in a discipline case.

He also argued Hill is only disqualified from the legal aspects of being attorney general, as opposed to his other statutory duties, such as general administration of the office. In his place, chief deputy Aaron Negangard is overseeing the legal operations.

What’s more, Lundberg said, while Hill is not authorized to practice law again until June 17, he remains “licensed,” thus meeting the statutory requirement that he be “duly licensed to practice law.”

The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission did not oppose the motion to intervene but also did not opine on the statutory process for filling a vacancy. However, the commission did imply that the suspension could mean Hill would have to give up all of his statutory functions, not just those that are legal in nature, during his suspension.

Indiana Lawyer has reached out to Holcomb’s office for comment.

The case is In the Matter of Curtis T. Hill, Jr., 19S-DI-156.

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