INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A 60-day law license suspension is being recommended for Indiana’s attorney general after allegations that he grabbed the buttocks of a female state legislator and inappropriately touched three other women during a party.
The recommendation filed Friday with the state Supreme Court puts the Republican Hill's ability to remain as state government’s top lawyer in jeopardy as he must have a law license to hold the position. It wasn't immediately clear how a temporary suspension would affect his status.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby proposed the punishment in a report to the court, which will make the final decision in the professional misconduct case. Selby said his law license should not be automatically reinstated following the suspension.
In her 36-page report, Selby wrote that Hill committed battery and she "finds and concludes by clear and convincing evidence" he violated rules of professional conduct.
“(Hill's) conduct was offensive, invasive, damaging and embarrassing" to the four women who accused him, Selby wrote. “As Attorney General, he used his state ofﬁce staff and others to engage in a public campaign to defend himself and intimidate the complainants.”
A message seeking comment was left with one of Hill's attorneys.
Selby heard four days of testimony in October about Hill’s conduct during the March 2018 party at an Indianapolis bar marking the end of that year’s legislative session.
Hill has denied any wrongdoing, testifying that he briefly touched Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon's back while leaning in to hear what she was saying during the party and was startled to realize she was wearing a backless dress. Hill said "absolutely not" when asked whether he grabbed Reardon's buttocks.
Reardon testified that Hill, smelling of alcohol and with glassy eyes, was holding a drink in his right hand and put his left hand on her shoulder, then slid his hand down her dress to clench her buttocks. "A squeeze, a firm grasp," she said.
Hill, 58, also refuted testimony from three female legislative staffers that he inappropriately touched them and made unwelcomed sexual comments during the party.
"I didn't touch any woman in a sensual or intimate manner," Hill said.
The Indiana Supreme Court's Disciplinary Commission, which investigates misconduct by lawyers, s ought a two-year suspension of Hill’s law license, arguing he must be held to a high standard because of his elected position and that he’s not taken any responsibility for his actions. Commission attorneys maintain the testimony against Hill “cannot be brushed off as simply boorish behavior or overlooked as a misunderstanding of intent.”
“Sexual assault causes serious, life-long harm, yet victims are loath to report it because of the fear they will be discounted and blamed instead of the perpetrator,” the commission’s attorneys wrote in filings to Selby.
Hill, who had been viewed as a rising African American star in the Republican Party, has rebuffed calls from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state GOP leaders for his resignation since the groping allegations became public in July 2018.
Hill announced in November his campaign to seek a second term in the 2020 election. The former prosecutor in northern Indiana’s Elkhart County would have to win nomination in June’s state Republican convention. He's being opposed by Adam Krupp, who stepped down in January as the Holcomb-appointed head of the state revenue department to run for attorney general.
Hill will be counting on the support of social conservatives among the state convention delegates in order to win the GOP nomination. He’s fueled that support with news conferences about the discovery of more than 2,400 sets of fetal remains at Chicago-area properties linked to a deceased Indiana abortion doctor and appearances on Fox News to discuss various topics.
The four women have also filed a federal lawsuit against Hill and the state, alleging sexual harassment and defamation by Hill. His attorneys have downplayed the allegations, arguing the claims against him represent common behavior in a bar even if they are true.
He acknowledged in legal filings that he drank three glasses of wine, a vodka martini and a shot of whiskey over several hours the night of the party.
“In such environments, there tends to be some degree of physical contact between individuals," Hill's lawyers said of the crowded party. “The amount of physical contact a particular person is comfortable with is highly variable from person to person."
Hill’s lawyers also maintain the disciplinary case is improper because a special prosecutor declined to file criminal charges and any conduct at the party shouldn't be subject to law license sanctions.
The state Supreme Court doesn’t face a deadline to make its decision. The court’s options range from dismissing the complaint, a reprimand, and temporary suspension or permanent removal of Hill’s law license.