Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita seems to have just two problems with being a public servant.
He doesn’t much care for the “public” part.
And he absolutely detests the “servant” piece.
That much is made clear by the lengths to which the attorney general will go to prevent the public from knowing what he’s doing and for whom he works. He seems to believe that the voters and the taxpayers are entitled to know nothing about his activities.
Marilyn Odendahl of The Indiana Citizen broke yet another illuminating but devastating story about Rokita the other day. (Disclosure: TheStatehouseFile.com and The Indiana Citizen have a partnership.)
Odendahl reported that the attorney general had hired heavyweight conservative lawyer James Bopp to represent him in a lawsuit. That suit focuses on Rokita’s attempts to keep the public from seeing an inspector general’s report regarding the attorney general’s employment with Apex Benefits.
When Rokita was elected attorney general, he had a lucrative gig with Apex he was reluctant to give up even though he would be holding public office.
He asked for the inspector general to review the situation. The inspector general did so. Through a staffer, Rokita indicated the inspector general found no ethical violations—but then he also stopped working for Apex.
An Indianapolis resident, Barbara Tully, asked to see the inspector general’s opinion. Rokita refused. Tully sued.
In January, a Marion County Superior Court judge ruled that Rokita had to release the inspector general’s report, but also that the attorney general could redact much of it.
Rokita’s fighting now to prevent the public from reading even a version he can edit himself.
That’s why he brought in Bopp.
Bopp is not just a heavy hitter in social conservative legal circles. He may be the heavy hitter.
He argued the now infamous Citizens United case before the U.S. Supreme Court that unleashed the floodtide of dark money across the political landscape and turned our elections into combinations of livestock auctions and mudwrestling matches. He also writes much of the legislation restricting reproductive rights in state legislatures all over America.
The fact that Rokita hired Bopp to represent him is one signal that the attorney general is determined—and maybe even desperate—to keep the inspector general’s general from being made public.
Another signal is a change slipped into the state’s budget late in the Indiana General Assembly’s session. A provision calls for informal advisory opinions by the inspector general to any current, former or prospective state employees to be confidential.
It also is retroactive, which means that, if it stands, Rokita can rely on the legislators’ action to continue to hide what the inspector general said.
There’s a great deal about all this that doesn’t smell right.
Among the malodorous parts is the question of who is paying Bopp for his legal services. He told Odendahl that he had a contract with Rokita that called for Bopp to be paid “the incredibly favorable rate” of $200 per hour.
Whether the rate is favorable or not, the question of who is paying Bopp’s fees should be answered. If it’s the taxpayers, they have a right to know that the attorney general has hired outside counsel simply to protect him from personal embarrassment.
But that’s not all that smells about this.
The effort to bury a legislative “solution” to Rokita’s problem in the state’s budget also stinks. The fact that this sneaky provision was made retroactive just increases the stench.
There is an important principle involved here.
If legislators are allowed to rewrite laws retroactively, the potential for mischief and injustice increases dramatically. What would stop lawmakers in the future who face a budget deficit from saying the tax bill you paid in previous years was too low—and rewriting the code to present you with a bill for fresh sums due? What prevents future legislatures from imposing criminal penalties on activity that is legal today?
There must be something in that inspector general’s report that Todd Rokita really, really doesn’t want the public to see. He’s willing to go to extraordinary lengths to keep whatever that report contains from seeing daylight.
But that’s Todd Rokita.
He likes everything about being a public servant but remembering that the attorney general serves the public.
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. The views expressed are those of the author only and should not be attributed to Franklin College.