Olivia Covington for www.theindianalawyer.com
In today’s world, the standard for conviction of sexual misconduct allegations has become guilty, and “who cares if you’re innocent.”
That’s according to Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, who publicly spoke out for the first time Monday after last week’s allegations that he groped a lawmaker and behaved inappropriately toward multiple legislative staffers. As he had in statements, he again resisted calls from leaders in his own party to resign.
Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon identified herself as the alleged groping victim in a Friday op-ed, while Gabrielle McLemore, communications director for the Senate minority caucus, has alleged Hill rubbed her back without her permission.
Hill, a Republican, has consistently denied those and other allegations since an internal memorandum detailing a legislative investigation into the allegations was leaked to the media and published on July 2. The memo, prepared at the request of legislative leaders by Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, includes statements from four other legislative staffers who either witnessed Hill’s alleged misconduct or alleged he behaved inappropriately toward them.
Those calling for Hill’s resignation include Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate Majority Leader David Long, all Republicans. Hill Monday morning explained to reporters why he has no plans to step down.
“I respect and value the Constitution, our sacred document that serves as the very foundation upon which this great nation was established,” Hill said. “… Justice gains its integrity through the protection of individual rights, such that every single person will be afforded due process of law. And that means fairness.”
“And yet, somehow, that protection, that standard of fairness, that benefit of the doubt, that presumption of innocence until proven guilty has escaped my grasp,” Hill continued. “I never dreamed this could happen to me.”
According to the memo, Hill’s alleged misconduct occurred during the early morning hours of March 15, when lawmakers and staffers gathered at AJ’s Lounge on the southside of Indianapolis for an end-of-session party. Reardon’s op-ed said she saw Hill entering the party alone, but the Attorney General said Monday that he attended the party at the invitation of another guest, Tony Samuel.
The memo then goes on to say that Hill, who was “very intoxicated,” slid his hands down Reardon’s back and under her clothes before grabbing her bare buttocks on two occasions, once after being told to “back off.” But according to Reardon’s Friday statement, she was able to recoil before Hill was able to grope her a second time.
Based on that discrepancy, Hill said Monday the groping allegations in the memo were “materially inaccurate,” making the calls for his resignation unwarranted. He also said those who have urged him to resign, the governor included, should rescind their statements.
“I am now being called upon to resign by the governor and others,” Hill said. “I respect the governor, and I believe him to be an honorable man, and I wish he had reached out to me regarding these accusations before rushing to judgment.”
“Perhaps this regrettable rush to judgment is best explained by self-preservation instincts,” Hill said later, speaking generally about those who have called on him to resign.
Hill said Monday he first learned of the then-anonymous accusations — which were initially reported to Bosma in May — minutes before boarding a flight on June 29. The memo says legislative leaders held a conference call with Hill on that day, then followed up with an in-person meeting on July 2. The Attorney General has also said he was never contacted by an investigator while the allegations were under review, and the memo makes no mention of Hill being involved in the investigative process.
“Victims of sexual abuse and/or sexual harassment deserve to have their voices heard,” the AG said. “As a prosecuting attorney, I fought hard for the rights of victims — while also safeguarding the rights of the accused.”
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Jennifer Drobac, a professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and a sexual harassment law expert, told the Indiana Lawyer last week that the legislative investigation was flawed for several reasons, including the fact that Hill was not included in the process. Hill has taken a similar stance and told reporters on Monday that he “anticipate(s) and welcomes the opportunity to have (his) side heard through a proper investigation.”
Hill declined to answer any questions during his Monday press conference, citing his desired investigation. Once that has concluded, he said he looks forward to sharing his side of the story publicly.
“For now, I’m going to get back to work, but before I do, I have one last thing to say,” Hill concluded. “A week ago today, I had a name. I want my name back.”
Sticking to his word, Hill then left the press conference and shut the door to his office without taking questions. A guard was posted at the entrance of his private office as reporters were leaving.
Despite Hill’s resolve, calls for him to step down continued in the wake of his Monday statements. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane — the Anderson Democrat who interviewed McLemore about her allegations, according to the memo — released a statement criticizing Hill’s decision to stay in office and his use of his campaign website to criticize the investigation.
“It is unfortunate that the Attorney General has decided to remain in his seat as Indiana’s chief law enforcement officer, instead of stepping aside,” Lanane, an attorney, said in the statement. “These allegations will continue to discredit this important office, and is an unnecessary distraction from the work that needs to be carried out by his office.”
“Today, I reinforce my call for his resignation,” Lanane continued, “and am glad that leaders and elected officials from both parties, including the governor, have joined me in this call.”
Reardon also released a statement in response to Hill’s comments on Monday, saying she will cooperate with any further investigation.
“When we take the oath of office, to serve the citizens of Indiana, we agree to be held to a certain standard and honor the trust the public has placed in us,” Reardon said in her statement. “Curtis Hill, through his actions has betrayed the public trust, and lied about his actions to the very citizens he serves. I will continue to cooperate with any and all investigations into this matter until such a time that Curtis Hill is held accountable for his abhorrent behavior.”
In addition to Hill’s calls for a new investigation into the allegations, the state’s inspector general has agreed to look into the allegations at the request of Bosma and Long.
The Democratic Attorneys General Association also weighed in over the weekend, criticizing its Republican counterpart for not addressing the allegations.
“Does RAGA’s silence suggest a lack of support for a zero-tolerance approach for sexual harassment?” Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a Saturday statement on behalf of the Democratic organization. “We call on RAGA, starting with RAGA chair and Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge, to end its silence.”