By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

February 26, 2024

Grievances filed against the three lawyers who represented Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita in his 2023 disciplinary matter have been dismissed, according to letters from the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.

Gene Schaerr and Christopher Bartolomucci of Schaerr Jaffee in Washington, D.C., and James J. Ammeen of Ammeen Valenzuela Associates in Indianapolis had been included in the grievance filed against Rokita for his response to the public reprimand he received in November. Letters, dated Feb. 16 and sent, separately, for each of the three attorneys, stated the commission had considered the matter against the legal counsel but decided not to pursue any disciplinary action.

“After reviewing your complaint, the office has determined that it does not raise a substantial question of misconduct under the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct that would warrant disciplinary action,” each letter, signed by Adrienne Meiring, the executive director of the disciplinary commission, stated. “Therefore, the complaint has been dismissed.”

Neither Schaerr, Bartolomucci or Ammeen responded to requests for comment. Also, the attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The letters were sent to retired Indianapolis attorney Paula Cardoza-Jones. She had filed a grievance in November, alleging Rokita had committed perjury by lying in the affidavit he signed as part of the conditional agreement to resolve the numerous grievances that had been filed against him in 2022. At the same time, she filed grievances against Schaerr, Bartolomucci and Ammeen, asserting they had enabled Rokita’s alleged misconduct.

The investigation that the disciplinary commission launched into Rokita, based on Cardoza-Jones’ grievance, appears to be continuing.

Combative response after public reprimand

The 2022 grievances arose from Rokita’s actions during his office’s investigation into Indianapolis OB/GYN Caitlin Bernard.

Following news reports in the summer of 2022 that Bernard has performed a medication abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio, Rokita made several public appearances and statements about investigating Bernard. The resulting disciplinary complaint asserted Rokita had violated two rules of professional conduct when he appeared on Fox News and called Bernard an “abortionist activist acting as a doctor – with a history of failing to report.”

Rokita was publicly reprimanded by the Indiana Supreme Court on Nov. 2. Within hours after the public reprimand, he issued a combative statement, which incited Cardoza-Jones to file a new grievance against the attorney general.

Cardoza-Jones asserted in her grievance that in the affidavit Rokita signed, he acknowledged he could not have defended himself against the two rule violations. However, in his post-reprimand statement, according to the grievance, Rokita claimed his words were factual and he could have fought the charges but said signing the conditional agreement would save “a lot of taxpayer money and distraction.” Also, in his statement, Rokita said he was “required to sign an affidavit without any modifications” in order to settle the disciplinary complaint.

Also, Cardoza-Jones pointed out in her grievance, Rokita, in his statement, reiterated what he had been disciplined for, saying it was “publicly alleged well before” the Fox interview that Bernard was an “abortionist” who had “failed to properly report her work to the state’s department of health.”

Cardoza-Jones stated in her grievance,  “After admitting to the facts underlying the two charges against him, admitting to the violations, acknowledging he could not successfully defended himself against these charges, and stating that his consent was freely and voluntarily given, Rokita directly contradicted his sworn affidavit supporting the (conditional agreement) in his Website Response.”

In Rokita’s current disciplinary case, the disciplinary commission is investigating whether he violated professional conduct rules 3.3(a)(1), which prohibits a lawyer from knowing making a false statement to a tribunal, such as the Indiana Supreme Court, and 8.4(c), which bars an attorney from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

In February, the Indiana Supreme Court allowed the disciplinary commission to release the affidavit Rokita signed and the conditional agreement.

AG’s office expands contracts to handle disciplinary matter

To defend Rokita before the disciplinary commission in the 2022 matter, the attorney general’s office contracted with Schaerr Jaffe and Ammeen Valenzuela Associates.

Both law offices already had contracts with the attorney general.

Ammeen Valenzuela had entered into a contract with the attorney general’s office in December 2021 to provide representation in a whistleblower case lodged against former Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell and several employees in her office. When that contract ended Sept. 13, 2023, a new contract began on the same day, which expanded the outside counsel’s duties to also include representing state employees and state officers in matters concerning grievances and misconduct complaints before the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.

That contract currently expires Dec. 31, 2024, and the fees are capped at $100,000.

Schaerr Jaffe’s contract has been amended six times since it was entered into on June 6, 2019. The fourth amendment expanded the scope of the firm’s services to include matters related to the litigation involving Bernard. In August 2023, the contract was amended for a sixth time to extend the contract to Dec. 31, 2024, and capped the fees at $1.1 million.

Dwight Adams, a freelance editor and writer based in Indianapolis, edited this article. He is a former content editor, copy editor and digital producer at The Indianapolis Star and, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal.

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