Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is the state’s top law enforcement officer. His job is to “protect the rights, freedoms, and safety” of everyone in the state. As Curtis Hill just found out, however, even he is not above the law. This week the Indiana Supreme Court suspended Hill’s law license for 30 days for the “inappropriate touching” of four women at a party in 2018.
The incident giving rise to the suspension happened at a private party held to celebrate the end of the legislative session in 2018. According to findings made by the Supreme Court, Hill acted inappropriately with at least four women at the party. The report says he
- Touched one woman’s bare back, rubbing his hand down her back to or just above her buttocks without her consent.
- Rubbed a second woman’s back without her consent.
- Put his arm around a third woman’s waist and pulled her toward him without her consent.
- Touched a fourth woman’s back, moving his hand down her back and moving the woman’s hand toward her buttocks and touching her buttocks without her consent.
A special prosecutor was appointed to consider criminal charges against Hill but declined to do so. That wasn’t the end of Hill’s problems, however. The Indiana Supreme Court also took up the matter after a disciplinary committee questioned whether Hill was fit to practice law.
The court could have permanently disbarred him but instead decided to suspend his license for 30 days. That means he can’t serve during that time as attorney general. The decision suspending his law license doesn’t appear to be a political one as the court’s suspension order was unanimous.
Hill is a Republican. Several legislative leaders and Republican Governor Eric Holcomb asked Hill to resign but he has refused to do so. Hill previously told reporters, “I am not resigning. The allegations against me are vicious and false. At no time did I ever grab or touch anyone inappropriately.”
Despite his repeated denials of the allegations, he said last week that he accepts the court’s suspension with humility and respect.
Governor Holcomb isn’t satisfied with the suspension and has asked the court if he can replace Hill. The law requires the attorney general to be licensed to practice law. Hill has appointed his deputy to serve as acting attorney general during Hill’s 30 day suspension. Holcomb believes that under the law, the office is technically vacant because Hill doesn’t meet the requirements to serve.
The attorney general in Indiana is elected by voters statewide. Despite all of his legal troubles, Hill says he is running for reelection.
Hill’s hearing garnered national attention last October. He said he may have “leaned in” and touched one of the victims to hear what she was saying but denied groping her buttocks. He denied all the allegations by the other three women.
A legislative staffer who attended the party where the offensive conduct occurred said Hill had been drinking and would rub against women who walked by. “When females walked by, [Hill] would use his body to rub up against them as they passed by him.”
The case is unusual because it was prosecuted by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. The Commission originally recommended that Hill’s law license be suspended for 2 years. They said Hill’s behavior was “deliberate, loathsome and demeaning."
Hill’s lawyers said that his behavior may have been “boorish and offensive to some or many, but it was conduct that occurred in a private setting that had no connection with the practice of law or his role as an attorney.” They argued that simply because he acted offensively his conduct had no bearing on his fitness as a lawyer.
Hill’s lawyers may have been correct in their arguments. The Supreme Court’s ruling suspending him focused heavily on his attacks on the Commission. Groping may have been sexual harassment and even assault but his case wasn’t before the Supreme Court because he had been sued or charged with a crime.
One of the other duties of the court is to regulate lawyers. It was the attorney disciplinary committee that said he wasn’t fit.
In ordering his brief suspension, the Court said Hill “devotes far too much of his briefing to entirely unfounded attacks on the commission’s motives and integrity. There are many legitimate legal arguments to be made in this case, which makes the parties’ inappropriate ad hominem attacks on one another a particularly frustrating distraction. We expect counsel to behave better in future cases.”
Many say that justice wasn’t served. Unfortunately, we think that Hill was not prosecuted in the proper venue. A lawsuit for sexual harassment was probably a better way of seeking justice.
The general public often confuses bar complaints, malpractice and lawsuits against lawyers. Simply because a lawyer commits a crime or makes a mistake doesn’t automatically make the lawyer unfit. For example, a lawyer that commits perjury, steals from a client or commits a crime of dishonesty is probably unfit. Similarly a judge who sexually harasses people in her courtroom is also a unfit.
Is a lawyer that gropes someone at a private party? We think so but the answer isn’t as clear cut as the other examples. In this case, it seems the court was more focused on Hill’s behavior towards the tribunal that was investigating him. And lawyers certainly have a duty to cooperate. Even the state’s top cop, Curtis Hill, isn’t above the law.
Victims of Sexual Assault and Groping Can Sue for Monetary Damages
Although Hill got a slap on the wrist, all isn’t lost. There is a silver lining in this case. By exposing Hill’s offensive behavior, his political career is probably finished. His own political party has turned against him and the governor is seeking to replace him.
This case is also proof that even the most powerful can be brought to justice. Does Hill’s terrible behavior at a private party impact his skills or ability as a lawyer? Maybe… it’s a stretch. But his own arrogance in attacking victims and the people charged with investigating him certainly impacts on his ability as a lawyer. As the state’s top cop, he should set an example. Attacking victims and investigators is what ultimately caused his fall.
The victims can also sue him for harassment and assault. In Indiana, victims generally have two years to sue for assault. Employment actions for sexual harassment, may have different timelines. (There is no allegation that any of the four women worked for Hill.)
Help for Victims of Sexual Assault and Abuse
The sexual harassment lawyers at Mahany Law help victims of sexual misconduct and harassment. If you have suffered from a sexual assault by a co-worker or were the victim of other serious sexual misconduct, you may be entitled to significant monetary damages. (If you also suffered from retaliation, you may also be eligible for double back wages and attorneys’ fees.)
Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone at 877.858.8018. All inquiries are kept confidential. Cases handled on a contingent fee basis. If you don’t win, we don’t get paid.