INDIANAPOLIS — Attorney General Curtis Hill declared Tuesday that he will not resign as the state's chief legal officer in the wake of allegations that he inappropriately touched four female legislative employees at a bar.
"The people of the state of Indiana have given me the highest honor to have elected me with overwhelming support to the position of attorney general," Hill said in a written statement. "I will continue to honor my commitment to the citizens of this great state."
The Republican is accused by a state lawmaker of twice drunkenly putting his hands on her back, sliding them to her buttocks, putting them under her clothes and grabbing "a handful," in the early morning hours of March 15 following the adjournment of the General Assembly's annual session.
Hill also reportedly touched or rubbed the backs of three additional legislative employees, of both political parties, without their consent at the same downtown Indianapolis bar, according to a compilation of the incidents prepared by an outside law firm for the General Assembly's nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody described the allegations as "beyond troubling and wildly inappropriate." He called on Hill to immediately resign for the good of the state.
"These actions are never acceptable," Zody said. "We believe the multiple allegations against the attorney general are serious, and raise material doubts over whether he can effectively carry out the duties of his office."
Hill repeatedly has denied the allegations. He said late Monday night: "At no time was my behavior inappropriate, nor did I touch anyone in an inappropriate manner."
He followed that up Tuesday by condemning the General Assembly's record of the incident as a "prejudicial investigation" that he described as "deeply troubling."
"I first learned about this investigation on Friday, yet I was never contacted by an investigator, met with legislators on Monday, had requested a copy of the 'confidential' report that had been provided to the media, and have been denied access to the report," Hill said.
"Now I am being asked if I intend to resign based upon this prejudicial investigation. Let me be clear, I am not resigning my position as attorney general."
Some take issue with investigation
State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, a former Hammond police captain, also took issue with the investigation that, in addition to detailing Hill's alleged behavior, concluded the General Assembly likely was not liable as an employer for sexual harassment in connection with the incident and Hill's law license probably is not imperiled by a single, unproven incident.
"Why in the world are they even investigating this as sexual harassment in the workplace?" Lawson asked. "When you reach under someone's dress, skirt, whatever and you grab their butt and you rub their butt on naked skin — that's sexual battery.
"There are all these attorneys, and nobody can read the criminal code? This is a police matter," she said.
The legislator, who The Times is not naming in accordance with its policy against identifying alleged sex crime victims, has not filed a police report.
Lawson thinks the legislator may have been actively discouraged from doing so.
"This is powerful men making decisions for another powerful man," Lawson said. "This is all about power and control. It's all about keeping it close to your vest. That's how we handle every other thing that's happened here."
As an independently elected executive branch official, Hill pretty much answers only to Hoosier voters for his conduct in office.
He cannot directly be removed by the governor or any other state officeholder. The General Assembly is empowered to impeach a state officer for crime, incapacity or negligence, but an officeholder charged with a felony already automatically loses his office on conviction.
Past Hoosier governors have been known to strongly encourage certain state officeholders to resign when their misconduct imperiled the governor's agenda or political party.
Reaction mixed, evolving
In this case, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is vacationing in Montana, has not called for Hill to resign, despite announcing one week after the alleged incident that "there's zero room for harassment of any kind in any state government workplace.
"We took great care to update our sexual harassment policies for the executive, legislative and judicial branches in the past few months. No one should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances. I commend House and Senate leaders for their immediate and formal follow-up to the allegations presented to them," Holcomb said.
"I’ll return to Indianapolis late (Wednesday) night. Until I've reviewed the facts in detail, I will have no further comment."
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer likewise declared that the party has "zero tolerance for sexual harassment." But Hupfer also stopped short of calling for Hill to resign his office.
State Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, had no such qualms. He said Hill needs to "consider the options necessary to maintain the dignity of the office.
"Hoosiers trust their elected officials to conduct themselves in a way that is professional and respectful of those they work with and around, and I am very disappointed to hear that the attorney general has not met that standard," Bohacek said.
"While I have the utmost respect for the office of the attorney general and his staff, I have lost respect for the officeholder. Hill's attempt to dismiss the situation is wrong, and his denial contradicts the completed investigation."
Attempts to contact other Northwest Indiana Republican legislative leaders concerning the allegations against Hill were unsuccessful.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said: "Our investigation has been completed, and the matter has been addressed with the attorney general to the satisfaction of the employees involved."
House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin, and Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, also initially signed on to that statement.
Goodin appears not to have changed course. Lanane now is demanding that Hill step down.
"The office and duties of the attorney general call for the highest levels of ethics and unquestionable character, and I believe Curtis Hill falls completely short of that standard," Lanane said.
"With that in mind, it is my belief that Curtis Hill can no longer adequately represent the best interest of Hoosiers nor effectively carry out his role and should resign from his position as attorney general of Indiana."
If Hill eventually does resign, Holcomb would appoint a new attorney general to finish the two-and-a-half years remaining in Hill's term.