By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

February 23, 2024

Saying he is tired of the controversies and uncertainty surrounding Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings is considering launching a primary challenge against the state’s top lawyer.

Cummings, who was elected to his seventh term as prosecutor in November 2022, confirmed that he has sent a letter to the Indiana Republican Party announcing he is exploring a run for attorney general. He told The Indiana Citizen he started getting contacted by “Republican political officials” in December asking him to consider entering the race.

While not mentioning anyone by name, Cummings said “individuals from Marion County” and the Hamilton County Republican Party chair have been “very supportive and very encouraging.” Also, he said many of his prosecutorial colleagues across the state have demonstrated their support by saying they are ready to help him if he runs for the office.

Marion County GOP chair, Joe Elsener, said in a text, “Nothing against Rodney, but I do not know of any ‘Marion County officials’ encouraging him to run.” Hamilton County GOP chair, Mario Massillamany, did not respond to a request for comment made via call and email.

Cummings did not set a deadline for when he would make a decision, saying “the balance will tip” if the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission files a complaint against Rokita before the June 15 Indiana Republican Party Convention.

“I’m concerned and others are (concerned) that Mr. Rokita is going to be suspended (from the practice of law) by our Supreme Court and may be ineligible to hold office,” Cummings said. “So, with that in mind, I think I’m going to consider the option of challenging him in a primary.”

Uncertainty may be growing over Rokita

Rokita was publicly reprimanded in November by the Indiana Supreme Court for misconduct over the attorney general office’s investigation into Indianapolis OB/GYN Caitlin Bernard. After a split Supreme Court issued its ruling, Rokita released a combative statement, denying he had violated confidentiality laws, claiming he accepted the reprimand to “save a lot of taxpayer money,” and blaming “the media, medical establishment and cancel culture” with hating “the fact I stand up for liberty.”

His reaction prompted the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission to open a new investigation in November. It is investigating whether Rokita violated the state’s professional rules of conduct for attorneys by making false statements of fact to a tribunal and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

To date, the investigation appears to be continuing. The commission could conclude Rokita’s comments did not violate the professional conduct rules and close the matter, or it could file another complaint against the attorney general and he would, again, be facing a possible sanction that could be as light as a private reprimand or as severe as having his law license suspended indefinitely or being disbarred.

Cummings said he thinks Republican leaders have looked at this latest disciplinary situation and now believe Rokita may lose his license. As evidence of GOP officials’ concern, Cummings pointed to an amendment made to House Bill 1265 on Monday.

Lawmakers on the Indiana Senate Elections Committee approved an amendment, which prohibits anyone from running for the office of attorney general who has either been disbarred or been suspended from the practice of law without automatic reinstatement. The committee chair, Sen. Mike Gaskill, R-Pendleton, offered the amendment but did not identify the author of the amendment and the Legislative Services Agency said it could not comment on who asked for the provision.

Cummings sees the string of troubles as damaging the attorney general’s office.

“I think that part of the problem we have in that office in Indiana, it seems like there’s endless controversies going on,” Cummings said. “It’s a race to get media attention and I think there’s more than enough opportunity with the work that the attorney general does without that trying to drive that engine more than it needs to be.”

Prosecutorial experience is touted

Cummings has run for offices other than prosecutor.

In 2023, Cummings briefly entered the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District, vying for the seat currently held by Rep. Victoria Spartz. He dropped out in August, saying “a significant health event” had caused him to step out of the race. Also, in 2016, he ran in the Republican primary for Madison County Circuit Court judge, but was defeated by Mark Dudley, who went on to win the November election that year.

Cummings criticized Rokita’s performance of the attorney general’s duties.

In particular, Cummings faulted Rokita for issuing “a very small number” of opinions as attorney general compared to his predecessors and “most of them are just on political issues.” There are many important issues the state needs to deal with, he said, and the opinions from the attorney general offer needed guidance to the governor and legislators.

However, Cummings mostly touted his work in the prosecutor’s office. Describing himself as “one of the most accomplished trial prosecutors in Indiana,” he said his experience as Madison County prosecutor has prepared him to be the state’s top attorney.

Cummings championed not only his trial experience, winning convictions in more than 100 murder and major felony jury trials, but also Madison County’s rank as third in the state, behind Marion and Allen counties, for sending people to prison. He said having an understanding of prosecuting enables the attorney general to better determine which cases should be appealed to the Court of Appeals of Indiana and the Indiana Supreme Court.

“I’m not sure my opponent has ever tried a case,” Cummings said of Rokita. “If he has, I’m not aware of it.”

Cummings’ tough-on-crime stance seems in contrast to his own life experience. He had a difficult childhood, living in foster homes and being dependent on welfare, before landing on the streets as a teenager, according to his biography on the Madison County Prosecutor’s office website.  After he got into trouble with the law, he was taken in by the Anderson Police Athletic League where he became a boxing champion and followed a career into law enforcement, working as a patrol officer and detective in the Anderson Police Department.

He earned his law degree at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and was first elected prosecuting attorney of Madison County in 1994.

Cummings said he is not against giving second chances to people who get into trouble. “Serious violent criminals” who commit serious felonies, such as murder, rape and robbery, must go to prison, he said. While others who are identified as being capable of rehabilitation should be given the opportunity to become productive citizens, he said there should be limits on the number of chances they get.

“I’m (as) driven for restoration and second chances as anybody is. It’s a very important component of my philosophy,” Cummings said. “But how many breaks do you get? Ultimately, there are consequences for your behavior and if you demonstrate that you’re not  interested in changing, we really don’t have anything else for you.”

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.

Related Posts