INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed against Indiana’s attorney general by four women who say he drunkenly groped them during a party, while state legislators took their first step toward possibly forcing him from office if the state Supreme Court suspends his law license.
Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill has denied the allegations and his lawyers argued the women didn’t have a valid case for sexual harassment under federal law because they all worked for state government’s legislative branch while Hill is an elected officer of the executive branch.
U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson said in her ruling that the women described “disgraceful and reprehensible conduct” during the March 2018 party at an Indianapolis bar marking the end of that year’s legislative session.
“But the highly offensive nature of the alleged acts does not meet the legal standard necessary to establish a violation of any federal law or the Constitution of the United States by Attorney General Curtis Hill,” she wrote.
Hill, who is seeking reelection this year, has rebuffed calls from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other GOP state officials to resign.
“I am grateful for the court’s ruling dismissing the federal lawsuit,” Hill said in a statement. “It is my great honor to serve the citizens of this great state and I look forward to continuing to protect and defend Hoosiers as their Attorney General.”
Lawyers for the four women said they were reviewing the ruling. “We are confident our clients’ case will proceed and their claims will be heard,” they said in a statement.
The state Supreme Court is considering a recommendation that Hill’s law license be suspended for at least 60 days for professional misconduct on the allegations that he grabbed the buttocks of a female state legislator and inappropriately touched three female legislative staffers.
The Republican-dominated Indiana House voted 83-9 Monday in favor of a proposal that would prohibit anyone whose law license has been suspended for at least 30 days from serving as attorney general. State law requires the attorney general to be “duly licensed to practice law in Indiana” but doesn’t address any professional disciplinary action.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby last month recommended that the law license suspension, writing that Hill’s “conduct was offensive, invasive, damaging and embarrassing” to the women.
Legislative Republicans had resisted taking steps toward forcing Hill out, but House Speaker Brian Bosma said the new provision is needed because it could take a year for Hill to regain his law license if the Supreme Court were to not allow automatic reinstatement.
“We felt like we needed to give some clarity so that our state is not faced with a vacancy that cannot be filled or is undefined,” Bosma told reporters.
The provision still needs the Senate’s approval to become law.
The attorney general’s office said in a statement that the proposal “raises some legal concerns — and this kind of rushed proposal lacks transparency and leaves no opportunity for public input.”
The allegations against Hill include that he grabbed the buttocks of Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon of Munster and inappropriately touched and made unwelcomed sexual comments toward three female legislative staffers — ages 23 to 26 at the time.
Hill’s attorneys have downplayed the allegations, arguing the claims against him represent common behavior in a bar even if they are true.
Hill’s lawyers also maintain the disciplinary case is improper because a special prosecutor declined to file criminal charges and any conduct at the party shouldn’t be subject to law license sanctions.