INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill will enter the chambers of the Indiana Supreme Court at nine o’clock Monday morning in a fight for his legal life.
Hill faces penalties ranging up to disbarment as the result of an Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission complaint regarding his alleged behavior during a party thrown by lobbyists to celebrate the end of the legislative session.
State Representative Mara Candelaria Reardon and statehouse staffers Gabrielle McLemore, Samantha Lozano and Niki DaSilva claim Hill drunkenly groped them in the dark.
Hill denied the allegations and a special prosecutor—while he said he found the women’s stories credible—refused to file criminal charges, citing the unlikelihood of securing a conviction.
The women sued Hill, and the Commission listed three rule violations regarding Hill’s, “honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer,” “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice,” and “the respondent engaged in offensive personality.”
A former prosecutor who has been sanctioned by the Commission lists the type of violations that could bring a lawyer before a court-appointed hearing officer.
“You could be taking money from a client’s trust account, you could be hiding evidence, you could be engaging in serious unethical behavior as an attorney,” said Carl Brizzi, “or you could be engaging in conduct that the Court or the Disciplinary Commission deems offensive outside of your role as an attorney.”
Brizzi was the Marion County Prosecutor from 2003 until 2011 and was brought before the Commission twice, once for extra-judicial comments regarding suspects in a mass killing on Indianapolis’ east side in 2006 and again for his dealings with a private defense attorney.
Brizzi received a public reprimand in the first case and a 30-day license suspension in the second.
“Now there are some rules about your behavior as a lawyer so that you can’t engage in contact that is offensive,” he said, “which is certainly incredibly subjective and opens lawyers up to a variety of sanctions for all kinds of different behavior.
“Listen, there are times when I’ve been a lawyer when I was offensive,” said Brizzi with a laugh, “and I’m sure that other lawyers would say the same thing in terms of combativeness.”
Attorneys representing Hill, during a pre-hearing meeting last week, advised former Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby, the hearing officer assigned to the case, that they would seek to preclude any evidence not falling, “within the four corners of the complaint.”
Hill’s lawyers want to restrict evidence and testimony to the night of March 14-15, 2018 at AJ’s Lounge.
Attorney Seth Pruden, representing the Disciplinary Commission, wants to introduce testimony from women who would claim that Hill engaged in similar behavior while he was the Elkhart County Prosecutor several years ago.
Brizzi said the intent of such testimony would be to determine, “whether or not there’s a propensity or pattern of this kind of misconduct that leads the hearing officer to believe that the allegations are more true than not.”
Such testimony is typically not permitted in a criminal trial.
Pruden also wants to introduce internal Attorney General office emails that would indicate how Hill’s staff responded to the crisis.
The AG’s top aides are among the 15 or more witnesses the Commission expects to call.
Hill’s attorneys said they will call five to 10 witnesses.
The hearing is expected to last all week with former Justice Selby likely to take the case under advisement before crafting an opinion and possibly suggesting sanctions.
“Regardless of whether you win or lose at the trial level, that decision can be reviewed and then reversed upon the discretion of the court,” said Brizzi who found that while the Commission ruled in his favor in one case, that decision was overruled by the Indiana Supreme Court which oversees the Commission. “As we are marching forward in time that especially lawyers are being subject to a wide variety of potential constraints and penalties that may or may not have anything to do with the actual practice of law.”