INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill remains defiant despite growing
bipartisan pressure for him to resign after three women, including a state
lawmaker, went public with claims that he drunkenly groped them at an
Republican has launched an aggressive public relations campaign to raise
doubts not only about the women’s claims, but over the veracity of a
confidential legislative memo detailing the allegations against him, which
was leaked to the media.
That’s created an
increasingly messy election-year situation for the GOP. Should it devolve
further, there are several - albeit rarely used - ways the Legislature could
oust Hill from office.
Here’s a closer
constitution allows “state officers” to be removed “for crime, incapacity or
negligence” either by “impeachment by the House of Representatives, to be
tried by the Senate” or by “joint resolution of the General Assembly” with
two thirds voting in favor.
But there’s debate
whether that applies to Hill. That’s because the attorney general - unlike
the state auditor, treasurer and secretary - is not specifically listed as a
“state officer” in the constitution. That’s led some to question whether the
constitution’s removal provisions can be used against Hill.
“This is all
uncharted territory,” said Joel M. Schumm, an Indiana University law school
professor. “People can make a variety of arguments about how it should work.
I don’t think there is a clear answer.”
Hill could still be
impeached “for any misdemeanor in office” under a different Indiana law. But
that would likely require criminal charges or a conviction - a higher
threshold than the “incapacity or negligence” standard in the constitution.
Hill has refused to
offer his own version of events from the March 15 party. That didn’t change
Wednesday during an unusual news conference where attorney Kevin Betz lashed
out at critics on Hill’s behalf for spreading “false and malicious”
Betz, who served on
Hill’s transition team following his 2016 election, wouldn’t call the women
liars. But he suggested their memories could be wrong because there was
“alcohol flowing” at the bar.
however, to say if Hill was drinking that night, though multiple people in
the memo alternately described Hill as “intoxicated,” “very intoxicated” and
a “really drunk guy.”
previously made by Hill, Betz pointed to several inconsistencies between the
memo and public accounts given by the women. He also threatened to file a
defamation lawsuit, suggesting someone with an axe to grind provided false
information contained in the document.
In a brief
statement, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate leader David Long said that
Hill is the one who needs to answer questions - not lawmakers or legislative
governors have been threatened with impeachment, but no top-level state
officials have been removed by impeachment. In 2012, former Secretary of
State Charlie White was automatically booted from office under a different
state law following a conviction for voter fraud.
In the early days
of statehood, however, roughly one dozen low-ranking officials were removed
by impeachment, including justices of the peace, court clerks and one
sheriff, according to a history of the Indiana General Assembly.
For the rest of the
1800s impeachment, which was often used to deal with petty misdeeds, largely
fell out of favor because it was time-consuming and expensive.
Then in 1927, a
judge and Ku Klux Klan member from Muncie, faced an impeachment trial after
he took action against a newspaper that published an expose accusing him of
misdeeds on the bench.
Judge Clarence W.
Dearth was so enraged by the story that he ordered all copies of the paper
seized, had the local sheriff arrest 38 newsboys and found the paper’s
publisher in contempt, according to the legislative history.
The House voted
93-1 to impeach Dearth. But he was later acquitted after the Senate came up
short of the needed two-thirds majority.
have suggested that Hill could be removed from office if he is found to have
violated the state court’s code of professional conduct.
general, Hill must have a law license to stay in office. If his law license
is taken away, he is no longer eligible for the job, said Indiana University
law school professor Jennifer A. Drobac.
Under the code of
conduct, attorneys are forbidden from committing “a criminal act that
reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a
lawyer” or behavior “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or
Drobac said Hill
appears to have committed multiple code of conduct violations - both through
his alleged conduct at the party, as well as in his public statements since,
which she characterized as misleading.
“If you assume the
complaints are true, which I believe they are - they’ve been well
substantiated - then, what he’s done is a violation,” she said.