Politics

Gov. Holcomb asks court if he needs to appoint new attorney general

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill speaks July 9, 2018, during a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Staring Monday, will Indiana be without an attorney general for 30 days?

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s counsel on Tuesday asked the Indiana Supreme Court if he needs to appoint a new attorney general.

The same court on Monday temporarily suspended Curtis Hill Jr. from practicing law for 30 days starting May 18. His law license will be automatically reinstated next month. The court found Hill violated professional conduct rules.

The suspension stems from a March 2018 incident: Four women said Hill groped them in an Indianapolis bar at a party to celebrate the end of the legislative session. A special prosecutor had previously cleared Hill of any criminal wrongdoing in the matter, and a lawsuit filed by the women was thrown out in March by a federal judge.

A news release issued Monday by Melissa Gustafson, public information officer for the attorney general’s office, said Hill appointed Aaron Negangard, who was the attorney general’s chief deputy, to assume responsibilities of attorney general until June 17, when Hill’s law license is to be reinstated. That’s one day before the Indiana Republican Convention, which will air for 90 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m. June 18 on WISH-TV.

In an emergency motion filed Tuesday, the governor’s counsel, Joe Heerens, asks if Hill will no longer have the “requisite qualifications” to serve as attorney general when suspended and if Holcomb should appoint a successor for the remainder of Hill’s term, which ends Dec. 31. Hill is the first African American man to become Indiana attorney general.

Heerens noted that the court’s suspension ruling “was silent as to the effect on the suspension of Attorney General Hill’s ability to perform any of the duties and responsibilities of the Office of Attorney General.”

The governor’s counsel also said the duties and powers of the attorney general could not be performed by someone with a suspended law license. The emergency motion tells the court, “The qualification to be attorney general is not simply that the attorney general be ‘duly licensed’ but that the attorney general be ‘duly licensed to practice law in Indiana.'”

The emergency motion from the governor’s counsel also says, “Given that the Governor has a duty under both the Indiana Constitution and the Indiana Code to appoint a successor should a vacancy occur in any state office, the Governor has a strong interest in determining whether the suspension of an Attorney General’s law license, for any period of time, creates a vacancy and obligates him to name a new person to serve as the Attorney General for the remainder of the current term.”

The Indiana Supreme Court gave all sides until noon Friday to respond to the emergency motion. It’s possible a ruling could be made Friday afternoon.

Holcomb, during a coronavirus briefing on Monday, said he was reviewing the court’s suspension of Hill. However, for many months since the incident, the Republican governor and others in the party have called on Hill, also a Republican, to resign.

Hill, 59, is Indiana’s first African-American man to be attorney general.

Hill is seeking a renomination to run again in November for the attorney general’s position. Potential challengers include Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter, former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita and lawyer John Westercamp.

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