Commentary: Hill, Holcomb, Conviction, And Intensity
By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – William Butler Yeats offers the most succinct assessment of the debacle created by and surrounding embattled Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill.
The Irish poet wrote in “The Second Coming”:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
From the moment he first found himself confronted with the possibility that he might face consequences for his groping and predatory behavior at a legislative wrap-up party, Hill has been nothing but intense.
He’s fought to hold onto his office with all the passion of a wounded and trapped animal. He’s changed his story about the evening in question at least twice. He battled back against the possibility that he might be impeached in the Indiana General Assembly by dropping unsubtle hints that he would respond by releasing either information or innuendo about lawmakers’ sexual adventures, improprieties and peccadillos.
He’s attempted to intimidate and discredit the women who accused him of groping them at the party. And he’s searched for every legal avenue to defer, delay and evade legal action.
Just the sort of conduct one wants from the state official charged with honoring and upholding the rule of law.
Those who have the authority to hold Hill accountable have acted with all the conviction of frightened mice.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and the leaders of Indiana’s four legislative caucuses all called for Hill to resign, but they put no muscle behind their demands. Cowed by Hill’s threats to blackmail lawmakers over their own indiscretions, leaders of both parties in the Indiana House of Representatives and the Indiana Senate worked hard to keep any effort to impeach Hill and remove him from the office from gaining a toehold.
That left one other option – having the judicial system make Hill accountable.
That process has been a drawn-out one. It was clear from the beginning that Hill had violated both the oath he took when he became an attorney and the responsibilities of his office.
A disciplinary commission inquiry found as much and arrived at a recommendation that Hill be suspended from practicing law for 60 days with no promise of automatic reinstatement.
From there, the matter went to the Indiana Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court decided that Hill had engaged in “criminal conduct” and gave him a suspension of 30 days, but with automatic reinstatement.
That created a constitutional crisis.
Because the attorney general must be a lawyer in good standing, Hill can’t hold the office for this month. He moved fast – all passionate intensity – to appoint an underling to keep the seat warm for him.
The governor didn’t move nearly as decisively.
He noted the constitutional problem and asked the Supreme Court to offer an opinion as to whether the attorney general’s office was vacant, which would have meant that Holcomb should appoint someone to fill the vacancy.
The justices declined to so opine, saying that they only could rule on actual matters before the court, not offer legal counsel.
In doing so, the Supreme Court invited – in fact, all but begged – Holcomb to appoint someone so that the justices could have something real and actual upon which to act.
In response, Holcomb – lacking all conviction – flinched.
He said that, without an opinion from the court, he was going to drop the matter.
That was a misjudgment on the governor’s part.
Holcomb should have appointed someone. That would have prompted Hill to challenge the appointment with litigation and forced the state’s highest court to decide whether a suspended attorney who had engaged in criminal conduct still qualifies to be attorney general.
Because of Holcomb’s failure of nerve, this state now will spend at least the next six months with a chief legal officer who clearly has no respect for the law and a chief executive who just ducked what may be the toughest leadership challenge of his governorship.
But that’s what happens when the best lack all conviction.
And the worst are filled with passionate intensity.
FOOTNOTE: John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.