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John Krull commentary: A public spanking for Indiana’s attorney general
It’s not often an entire state sees a member of the bench administer a public spanking to a 51-year-old man.
Now, courtesy of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, Hoosiers have witnessed such a humiliating spectacle.
Marion County Judge Patrick Dietrick did the paddling.
Dietrick rejected every one of Rokita’s arguments the attorney general made to insert himself into the dispute between Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Indiana General Assembly about who can call the legislature into session. (The Indiana constitution says only the governor can but the self-styled constitutional purists in the legislative branch have developed cases of selective illiteracy.)
Rokita, who has elevated pandering to the Trump wing of the Republican Party into a cause resembling a jihad, sided with the lawmakers. He contended that the governor could not hire outside counsel—and thus initiate litigation—without his permission. He argued that he could represent both sides in the battle—and serve as arbiter, too. He asserted that he alone could represent the state in court and was the sole interpreter of whether the law violated the Indiana Constitution.
Wrong, wrong and wrong again, the judge said.
Dietrick’s dismissal of Rokita’s arguments—and I’m probably giving them much too much credit by calling them arguments—was withering. Rarely are judicial rulings so punishing, with language so scathing.
The judge said Rokita was demanding that his office be elevated in importance above the governor’s.
“This is an absurd result that could not have been intended by either the drafters of Indiana’s Constitution or the General Assembly,” Dietrick wrote.
The judge also said that Rokita cannot block the governor from defending his (or her) constitutional powers. Dietrick added that a governor has a duty to defend the office’s constitutional powers and cannot abdicate that responsibility. Once the legislature overrode Holcomb’s veto of the emergency-powers bill, litigation was the governor’s only means of defending those constitutional powers.
All Dietrick’s points were bad—from Rokita’s perspective, that is—but there was still more.
It was at this point the paddling began in earnest.
The judge also reminded Rokita that, as attorney general, he is bound by the same obligations any other attorney is.
That means he cannot represent both sides in a dispute. The judge said Rokita’s contention that he could represent both sides ethically and fairly was undercut by the fact that Rokita already publicly had taken sides with the lawmakers.
Lawyers who violate those rules can be subject to disciplinary action.
Translation: If Todd Rokita wants to continue being the state’s top lawyer, he needs to stop acting like a street-corner hustler.
Rokita responded by being Rokita. He heard none of it.
He vowed to appeal Dietrick’s ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court. (Good luck there, Mr. Attorney General. The justices don’t read the constitution by skipping over sections petulant lawmakers and relentlessly ambitious attorneys general don’t like.)
Rokita did so because, as a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative, he believes it important to keep throwing good taxpayer money after bad.
He won’t learn anything from this episode because he can’t.
If a man hasn’t figured out by the age of 51 that enduring a public spanking such as the one Dietrick administered doesn’t enhance either his dignity or his chances for higher office, then he really can’t grasp much.
So, Todd Rokita will fight to have another day in court on this matter.
Here’s how he should prepare for it:
First, he should bend over.
Then, he should grab his ankles.
The court will take it from there.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.