New judge for suit seeking to remove AG Hill might come from justices

The Marion County Clerk — or maybe the Indiana Supreme Court — will have to appoint a new judge to hear a case challenging Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill’s eligibility to continue to serve in office as he serves his suspension from the practice of law related to accusations of groping and sexual misconduct.

Marion Superior Judge Marc Rothenberg recused himself May 22 from a lawsuit filed May 21. 

Since then, attorneys for Hill and for plaintiffs James and Kathy Perron, Julia Vaughn and John Windle failed to agree on a judge to preside over the case. The development set the stage for Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge to make the appointment under Indiana Trial Rule 79(H) and Marion County Local Trial Rule LR49-TR79-224.

Those rules allow the clerk to make an appointment from the clerk’s list of eligible qualified special judges. If the list is exhausted without a qualified judge accepting jurisdiction, however, the rule permits the matter to be directly referred to the Indiana Supreme Court.

“Upon exhaustion of the list, the judge from whom the change of judge was taken, or who is ineligible or disqualified, shall certify the case to the Indiana Supreme Court for the appointment of a special judge by the Court,” according to the governing Marion County local rule. “Further, the judge may certify a case directly to the Indiana Supreme Court where the particular circumstances of the case warrant selection by the Court without reference to the clerk for selection from a list.”

Indiana’s high court previously denied Gov. Eric Holcomb’s bid to intervene in Hill’s discipline case after the governor asked justices to clarify whether Hill’s suspension created a vacancy for which Holcomb needed to appoint a replacement. Hill argued it didn’t, and he appointed his deputy, Aaron Negangard, to oversee the legal operations of the Attorney General’s Office until Hill’s suspension is over on June 17.

The Indiana Supreme Court sidestepped the questions of Hill’s eligibility to serve after his suspension or his authority to appoint someone to serve in his stead in denying Holcomb’s motion to intervene.

The case brought by the Perrons, Vaughn and Windle — James Perron, Kathy Perron, Julia Vaughn, and John Windle v. Curtis T. Hill Jr., Aaron Negangard and Eric Holcomb, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of Indiana, 49D07-2005-PL-016774 —  asked the Marion Superior Court to declare that Hill’s ongoing suspension created a vacancy, and to find that Hill lacked authority to appoint Negangard to serve in his absence.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs in the case filed a motion Thursday to withdraw their prior motion for summary judgment.

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