Lobbyist defends Hill in sometimes-contentious disciplinary hearing

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The lobbyist who took Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill to a March 2018 legislative party is defending Hill in his legal ethics case, telling a disciplinary hearing officer Wednesday that he knows when a man is “hitting on” a woman, and Hill was not.

Tony Samuel, president of Samuel Solutions, was with Hill and others on the night of March 14, 2018, sharing drinks and appetizers with the AG at multiple restaurants. Then, after midnight, the group traveled to AJ’s Lounge, where Hill allegedly groped four women: State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, legislative staffers Gabrielle McLemore Brock and Samantha Lozano, and former legislative aid Niki DaSilva.

Reardon testified Monday that after Hill groped her, she confronted him about his behavior toward her and told at least one person at the party that the AG was a “creeper.” The prosecution on Monday also called as witnesses Hill’s other accusers, followed by testimony Tuesday from legislative staffers who attended the sine die party, and from House Speaker Brian Bosma and former Senate President Pro Tem David Long.

Hill briefly took the stand as a commission witness Wednesday.

Samuel said he and Hill were friends back in March 2018, but have since become “good friends.” In fact, Samuel said on cross-examination, he was better friends at the time with Reardon.

Throughout the night, Hill was loose, friendly and in a good mood, Samuel said. He might have been “slightly intoxicated,” but no more than any other person who’d had three to four drinks would be. Samuel estimated that he was with Hill 25% to 50% of their time at AJ’s.

Generally, Hill is a friendly and gregarious person with a big personality who likes people and who people like in return, Samuel said.

Samuel testified that there were 100 to 200 people at AJ’s — among the highest estimates given during the evidentiary hearing — but he never saw Hill behave inappropriately toward any of those people. Had Hill been offensive, Samuel said someone would have told him about it that night, because people knew Hill had come with him.

Samuel’s direct testimony, run by defense attorney Jim Voyles, was relatively short, but he was on the stand longer for a sometimes contentious cross-examination by disciplinary commission attorney Seth Pruden.

Pruden focused a small part of his questioning on the party, with Samuel telling him that Hill was not “drunk.” Yes, he’d been drinking, but on the drive home, Hill was holding a normal conversation and not slurring his words, the lobbyist said.

The larger portion of Samuel’s cross-examination focused on his role in Hill’s response to the sexual misconduct allegations once they became public. When the accusations were first reported, Samuel said he was shocked and ticked off, because what was being alleged was not what he had seen.

As the person who had invited Hill to the party, Samuel said he was asked to speak publicly about what had happened in the early morning hours of March 15. However, on the advice of Voyles – and later on the advice of his own attorney – Samuel decided not to make public remarks.

But, according to Pruden’s line of questioning, Samuel was still involved in the public responses others gave after the accusations came to light in July 2018. The commission attorney pointed to multiple email chains with draft press releases, op-eds and the like intended for release.

Also included on those email chains were Aaron Negangard, Hill’s chief deputy attorney general; Linda Chezem, a former Indiana Court of Appeals judge and vocal Hill supporter; and Jim Bopp, a prominent conservative attorney who has represented Hill. Media consultants and other legal figures were likewise included at times.

Pruden homed in on a particular email that contained a draft of an op-ed Chezem planned to release in support of Hill. In the email, Chezem is asked to review the draft and reframe it in her tone, while notes are made about eliminating “belligerent” or “bombastic” language.

The commission attorney contrasted that email with one sent by DaSilva to a friend that contained a draft of DaSilva’s public statement. The friend had previously worked in the Office of the Attorney General, but because she was no longer with the OAG when DaSilva sent the email, it bounced and ended up in Hill’s hands.

In her message, DaSilva asked the friend for comments on grammatical errors and phrases that needed to be corrected, strengthened and/or eliminated. After the email bounced, Hill released it publicly as evidence that his accusers were “coordinating” their stories against him.

During cross-examination, Pruden pointed to an email chain titled “first draft to expose DaSilva coordination.”

Looking first to the email regarding Chezem’s public comments, Pruden asked Samuel if it was inappropriate for multiple people to review drafts of a message intended for public release. Samuel did not answer the question directly, instead saying there was a difference between the goal of the Chezem email and the goal of DaSilva’s email.

DaSilva is an accuser, he said, so only she can know what happened to her. Thus, others’ input is not needed. Contrast that with an “innocent” person such as Hill, who would want help in coordinating a response to false accusations, Samuel said.

The lobbyist pointed to DaSilva’s use of the words “phrases” and “strengthened” in further support of his theory that there was a legitimate belief that the accusers were coordinating their stories.

During Samuel’s cross-examination, he and attorneys sometimes talked over each other. The first instance was when Samuel was discussing why he thinks the accusations against Hill are untrue.

According to Samuel, if Hill had wanted “sexual gratification,” as has been alleged, there would have been more to his actions than a back rub. Asked how he knew that, Samuel pointed to “life experience” of going to bars.

The defense began to object to that line of questioning, but Pruden told hearing officer Myra Selby that his questions were intended to show whether Samuel’s testimony was influenced by his friendship with Hill. Samuel denied that he was influenced, Voyles moved to strike the comment and Pruden rephrased his statement as possible witness “bias.”

Selby told Pruden not to make inferences that went deeper than the question and testimony.

The second contentious moment came at the end of cross-examination, when Samuel said he had declined to appear on some episodes of the political show IN Focus if the Hill accusations were to be a topic of discussion. If Samuel did appear and Hill was discussed, he said he would not participate in the discussion.

But Pruden pointed to a November 2018 episode of IN Focus, when Samuel did make an “unplanned” remark about the accusations. On that episode, the panelists were discussing a Statehouse incident in which Reardon yelled, during a Hill press conference, “Resign! Resign!”

“It’s a little unfortunate that these folks, the accusers – and remember he was cleared of these charges – are now appearing unhinged as far as I can see,” the lobbyist said on the show.

Samuel tried multiple times to explain his comments, but Pruden repeatedly asked Selby to silence him. Selby told Samuel at least twice that he had to wait for a question before he could speak, and Pruden emphasized that his question was only whether Samuel had appeared on the show and made the comment, not what the context was.

When Samuel was dismissed as a witness, he asked Selby if he could explain his comments. The hearing officer told him no.

Also on Wednesday afternoon, the defense called as witnesses Republican State Reps. Alan Morrison and Jim Lucas. Both attended the sine die party, and both said Hill did not draw their attention as being overly intoxicated or inappropriate.

The defense also called Logan Harrison, an Anthem attorney to whom Reardon complained about Hill immediately after he allegedly groped her. Harrison is the one she made the “creeper” comment to, according to Reardon.

Harrison recalled her comments, but did not see Hill touch Reardon. He also testified that Reardon was teaching other partygoers to salsa, though she has testified that she did not dance at the party.

Though Hill was called as a commission witness Wednesday morning, he did not return to the stand that afternoon. Instead, the commission admitted several exhibits of emails sent between Hill, his attorneys and his supporters after the allegations became public. The commission also admitted press statements and news articles.

The commission periodically recessed its case to allow defense witnesses to testify. The prosecution then rested after the admission of the exhibits.

Check back with theindianalawyer.com for updates.

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