Letter to the editor: Recommended discipline for AG Hill is justified

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In Christine Scales’ letter to the editor, “Hill discipline recommendation raises racial bias concerns” (Indiana Lawyer, Jan. 22, 2020), Ms. Scales correctly observes that the penalties given to the three drunken and violent judges was far too light. Three judges, attending a judicial conference on the taxpayers’ dime in Indianapolis, started a drunken brawl with two men at 3 a.m. May 1. One of the judges, as well as the assaulted men, were arrested.

These judges were not drunken college students, but middle-aged adults. And they were not playing “Dude, Where’s My Car?” or spending a night at the “Animal House” fraternity. Despite the reprehensible conduct of the judges, they were slapped on the wrist by the Indiana Supreme Court: suspended for a couple of months, then automatically reinstated.

These judges should have been permanently removed from the bench and then had their law licenses suspended. How can anyone respect the dispensation of penalties from judges who skated when involved in such crimes?

Ms. Scales also notes some attorneys can commit criminal acts and suffer only a short suspension. She provided two examples. I am not familiar with the facts of these cases, but I would not be surprised. The Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission appears to recommend discipline based upon the local status and relative success of the attorney, not the nature of their conduct. The disciplinary commission tends to hammer solo practitioners for lesser offenses. They are easy targets, lacking financial resources or fed up with scraping for a few scraps in a market saturated with lawyers. Many do not even cooperate with the investigation. For them, it is likely that their legal practices aren’t financially viable enough to even defend.

But Ms. Scales errs when attacking the disciplinary commission for requesting a two-year suspension of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill. Hill was accused of battery against an Indiana state senator and three staffers while at an Indianapolis bar.

The special prosecutor, while believing the testimony of the victims, did not find probable cause to pursue the charges. The definition of “battery” in Indiana Code § 35-42-2-1 is “[a] person who knowingly or intentionally … touches another person in a rude, insolent, or angry manner.”

If feeling up a woman is not an act comprising conduct in the nature of “rude [or] insolent,” I cannot imagine what the threshold for rude or insolent would be.

But Hill’s case merits further discussion. Hill was apparently drunk when he allegedly felt up the women. But when confronted with the amply supported charges, Hill vehemently denied them. And continues to deny them.

Hill had a simple and redeemable way of addressing the matter. Call a press conference, feign contrition, admit he has a “drinking problem,” attend JLAP and meet the recommendations of the commission. But he didn’t take the hint. He doubled down at every juncture, ratcheting up the punishment he would receive.

If Hill had handled this matter in the early stages, he may have been able to finish his term as attorney general. Or resigned honorably and gotten a job at a large law firm or as a lobbyist. Those doors have now closed behind him.

2019 was a particularly ignominious year for the Indiana bar and bench. About all Hoosiers can hope for is that based upon a bell curve distribution for legal dishonor, 2020 has to be better.

— Rob Feightner, JD, LLM
Fort Wayne

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