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IN Focus: Curtis Hill hearings could lead to loss of AG’s law license

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission hearing into Attorney General Curtis Hill concluded after more than three-and-a-half days of testimony and presentation of evidence.

During several hours of testimony, Hill said, “It was not my intention to be rude to anyone,” and, “I never want to be in a position where someone feels uncomfortable because of my words,” during an Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission hearing that could cost him his license to practice law.

Hill is accused of violating the rules that govern the conduct of lawyers in the state of Indiana as the result of his alleged actions inside an Indianapolis bar in the late winter of 2018.

During a so-called Sine Die party, held to celebrate the end of the legislative session, Hill is accused of making sexually suggestive comments and groping four women — three statehouse staffers and a state representative — after a night of drinking.

Hearing Officer Selby presided over testimony of the four women earlier this week in which they recounted incidents from the early morning of March 15, 2018, at AJ’s Lounge just south of downtown.

The women said Hill committed battery and sexual battery by touching them in an appropriate manner and making suggestive comments.

Hill was never charged criminally, though he admitted telling a special prosecutor that touching the women in a rude or insolvent manner could be charged as battery, doing so for personal arousal would be sexual battery.

Hill is the former prosecutor of Elkhart County.

Attorney Dan Lundberg led his client through the events of the last day of the 2018 General Assembly.

Hill testified that his evening of drinking began with a lobbyist and his clients around 8:30 p.m. at the Capital Grille on West Washington Street and later moved to the 1933 Lounge at St. Elmo Steakhouse before the group headed for AJ’s Lounge at about midnight, shortly before the General Assembly adjourned for the session.

Hill admitted he looked at attending the party as an opportunity to “participate and engage legislators,” and review the recently completed session.

While Hill’s attorneys have argued that the Disciplinary Commission overreached its authority by filing a complaint about the Attorney General’s alleged behavior while outside of his official duties, Hill’s admission parallels the testimonies of other witnesses who considered the party an extension of the statehouse workday and interests.

Hill testified he ordered a vodka martini and mingled through the crowd, straining to hear conversations over the music and bar noise due to a hearing deficiency in his left ear.

The A.G. said he engaged in various conversations about legislation that was defeated or passed in the waning hours of the General Assembly.

“Contrary to my public persona, I’m a fun guy,” said Hill, who recounted he looked at the party as an opportunity to “laugh and engage.”

Legislative aide Niki DaSilva testified that while she stood at the bar, Hill approached and announced, “Don’t you know how to get a drink? You have to show your knee. You have to show a little skin.”

In Hill’s recounting of the comment, he said he was making the remark to the crowd in general at the bar, but it was directed at State Senator Greg Taylor, who was behind the bar serving up drinks.

“’Geez, you wanna get this guy’s attention, you have to show some leg,’” Hill testified, recalling the comment. “What I did not do was turn to some individual and offer to buy them a drink.”

State Representative Mara Candelaria Reardon testified that Hill touched her lower back and hooked his thumb into the waist of her backless dress.

Hill described that he encountered Reardon while walking through the bar, leaned in to engage her in conversation “brushing her shoulder” with his hand to steady himself.

When he became aware there was no fabric covering Reardon’s back, Hill testified that he said, “’Oh, you got a backless dress. Is that the dress you wear for your performances?’”

Hill said he was referring to Reardon’s appearance during a ballroom dancing performance for a Hoosier Idol fundraiser he had witnessed.

Hill denied squeezing the representative’s buttocks as she claimed.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “My hand was on her skin above her buttocks.”

Reardon testified there was a second encounter when Hill stood behind her, touched her again and said, “That skin. That back.”

Hill said that incident did not happen, and he was not aware of any protestations as Reardon testified.

Lundberg then moved on to ask questions about the testimonies of Hill’s other accusers.

Statehouse aides Garbrielle (McLemore) Brock and Samantha Lozano testified that Hill either made inappropriate comments or touched them without their permission.

Hill denied that those incidents occurred and said at no point during the party did anyone indicate to him that his actions or comments made them feel uncomfortable.

Hill later went on to testify that Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and President Pro Tempe of the Senate David Long advised him in early July that the IndyStar was about to break a story about the AJ’s party and quote a leaked memorandum written by an outside law firm that reviewed the legislators’ internal investigation of the allegations.

The Attorney General said that he had doubts about the accuracy of the report and the allegations and then decided to launch his own campaign of defense.

“I was gonna fight it,” he said. “It was a breach of fairness.”

A Victims Advocate employee from the Elkhart County Prosecutors Office testified Wednesday that in the weeks leading up the Hill’s election as attorney general in November of 2016 and after his election and swearing in, Hill approached her about engaging in a sexual relationship.

She said one of those encounters and conversations took place on March 16, 2018, the day after the Sine Die party in Indianapolis.

Hill testified that he only admired her dance skills and never proposed an affair with the woman.

Throughout Hill’s testimony, his wife of 26 years, Theresa, has remained seated in the Supreme Court chambers listening to testimony.

Commission Counsel Seth Pruden began his cross examination of Hill, confirming the Attorney General’s assertion that the unwelcome touching of the women in the bar could be charged as criminal acts, but Hill said for such a crime to be charged, intent must be proven, and he had no intent to harm the women that night.

Hill also testified to an exchange of emails by members of his staff on their private email servers with those of supporters developing a public response to the allegations in the summer of 2018.

“Any thoughts on pitching this to conservative media that Holcomb cronies and liberals are driving this?” one email asked in reference to Governor Eric Holcomb’s call for Hill’s resignation after the allegations became public.

At 3:07 p.m. Thursday, former Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby concluded the hearing and instructed counsel to meet in her chambers to determine the closure of the case.

Selby is expected to take evidence under advisement to determine if a rules violation occurred, and if so, what the appropriate punishment might be, the most severe being disbarment.

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