INDIANAPOLIS | Hoosier taxpayers will directly bear the cost of Gov. Mike Pence's lawsuit seeking to overturn President Barack Obama's executive order deferring removal actions for an estimated 4 million people who entered the United States illegally.

Unlike other cases where the Republican governor has sued the federal government — including attempts to undo the Affordable Care Act, legalization of gay marriage and clean air rules — Attorney General Greg Zoeller is not representing Indiana in its immigration lawsuit.

Zoeller spokesman Bryan Corbin said while the Republican attorney general shares Pence's concerns about "unilateral executive action to address matters entrusted to Congress," Zoeller chose to authorize outside counsel for the lawsuit rather than pursuing it himself.

"State statute permits state entities to hire outside counsel with the attorney general’s consent, and our office agrees that using outside counsel at the trial court level is appropriate in this lawsuit," Corbin said.

Zoeller authorized Pence to hire attorneys Peter Rusthoven and Joe Chapelle from the Indianapolis law firm of Barnes & Thornburg to represent Indiana in the 17-state immigration order challenge led by Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general.

Pence declined to say Thursday how much money he is willing to spend on the lawsuit. His office also has not responded to a request for a copy of the representation contract between the state and the law firm.

"We have no way to estimate the cost of any litigation at the outset," said Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks.

In prior legal challenges to federal actions led by Zoeller, the attorney general claimed the state's cost of pursuing its interests in court were minimal because his staff lawyers are salaried state employees paid regardless of which case they work on.

Rusthoven billed the state $475 per hour in 2011 when he was hired as outside counsel for Indiana's lawsuit against IBM over a failed welfare privatization scheme.


Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.