There must be something about the office of Indiana attorney general that attracts people who are, as my late grandfather used to say, “half a bubble off of plumb.”
Back in the 1970s, the office was occupied by a martinet named Ted Sendak, who famously demanded that everyone call him “General.” He searched for communists under beds and found ways to strut even when he was sitting down.
We Hoosiers just rid ourselves of Attorney General Curtis Hill. Hill moved through a celebration at the end of an Indiana General Assembly legislative session like a blind and drunk octopus. Hill managed to cling to his office while he fought off charges that he gripped and groped a series of women—one of them a state legislator—by arguing, among other things, that he was qualified to serve as the state’s lawyer even when his license to practice law had been suspended.
Hill was—again, as my grandfather, used to say—“special.”
When he failed to gain the Republican nomination so he could run for re-election, sensible Hoosiers breathed a sigh of relief.
We thought the worst was over.
Ah, but we did not reckon on Todd Rokita.
Rokita, the self-styled working man’s hero who wears tasseled loafers and enough product in his hair to keep it in place even in a tornado, succeeded Hill.
Even before he officially became attorney general, Rokita hurled himself into desperate searches for constitutional crises he to exploit. He signed on to a hopeless attempt by the attorney general of Texas to overthrow the 2020 presidential election.
Ken Paxton, the Texas A.G., has been under indictment on felony securities fraud charges for the past six years. He’s used every delaying tactic allowed by law—and invented a few new ones—to push back his day of reckoning in court. He likely filed the suit Rokita supported to entice former President Donald Trump to give him a pardon before Trump left office.
It didn’t happen—and the dubious nature of both Paxton’s argument and his motivation didn’t stop Rokita from wasting time and money on the effort.
In addition to that foolish foray, Rokita also has done his best to draw social media into banning him. He contends that he’s trying to see if the social media chieftains will “censor” him.
Only government can censor.
Private entities edit.
It might annoy Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that Fox News won’t give them all the airtime they might wish, but the folks at Fox are within their rights to decide who gets to use their platform.
And who doesn’t.
Most lawyers understand that.
But then their vision isn’t clouded by the same sort of relentless ambition that Rokita’s is.
Not satisfied with these embarrassing adventures, Rokita has opted to see if he can escalate what is a genuine Indiana constitutional crisis.
The state legislature, in its infinite wisdom, decided to adopt a law over Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto that ignores the Indiana constitutional provision that only the governor can call the general assembly back into session. The lawmakers did so because they were angry that Holcomb wouldn’t go along with their pretense that the coronavirus pandemic just didn’t exist.
Holcomb responded by suing the legislature on constitutional grounds.
That’s when Rokita waded in.
He said the governor couldn’t hire outside lawyers without the attorney general’s consent. Rokita argued that his office was the proper one to resolve the conflict.
In other words, Rokita contended that he could represent both parties in the dispute—and that he could be the judge, too.
The response from Holcomb’s legal team was scathing. They argued that Rokita’s conduct could make him subject to disciplinary action because he was advancing one client’s interests while undermining another’s—a no-no.
To be fair to Rokita, Indiana’s founding charter left him a loophole to exploit.
I talked with a legal scholar who did not want to have his name drawn into the conflict.
“There’s a flaw in the Indiana constitution,” the scholar said. “It’s not always clear who the attorney general represents. Sometimes, it’s the people of Indiana. Sometimes, it’s the governor. Sometimes, it’s the legislature.”
“And sometimes, it’s just the attorney general himself.”
Music to Todd Rokita’s ears.
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.