People don’t always have a second chance to do the right thing.
Neither do professions nor public institutions.
Such a second opportunity, though, may present itself with the ongoing trainwreck that is the office of the Indiana attorney general.
Marilyn Odendahl of The Indiana Citizen reported that the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission is investigating Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita for various transgressions. (Disclosure: The Indiana Citizen and TheStatehouseFile.com have a partnership.)
Odendahl’s scoop—which was revealed by the Washington, D.C. law firm Rokita has hired, using taxpayer funds, to defend him—establishes that Indiana’s attorney general nightmares aren’t over.
Rokita is the second attorney general in a row to be the focus of a serious disciplinary commission investigation. That’s a problem that might have been avoided if key players had acted decisively in the past.
Rokita’s predecessor, fellow Republican Curtis Hill, also found himself under investigation.
Hill groped several women, one of them a state legislator, at a party marking the end of a legislative session. Afterward, he told multiple and conflicting stories about his conduct. Then he tried to use the power of his office to intimidate the women who reported his boorish behavior.
All four legislative caucus leaders called for Hill’s resignation, as did Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. But none acted to remove Hill from office.
The disciplinary commission recommended that his license to practice law be suspended for two months without the promise of automatic reinstatement. The Indiana Supreme Court reduced that to one month and reinstated Hill’s license.
The governor then asked the Supreme Court to say whether the suspension of Hill’s law license made him ineligible to serve as attorney general. The court declined to answer unless the governor filed suit to test the question.
In one of the great mistakes of his governorship, Holcomb opted not to do so.
Hill then appointed an underling to fill his seat for a month and proceeded as if nothing was different or wrong.
The lesson a person unburdened by an ethical compass could take from the episode was that an Indiana attorney general could trash both state law and legal standards of conduct at will—and the worst that would happen is that he or she would receive a month’s vacation.
Enter Todd Rokita.
Since assuming office, he has tried to turn the job of attorney general into a side hustle while he held onto a lucrative private-sector gig, dragged Indiana into fights over how other states conduct their elections and escalated a constitutional tiff between Holcomb and the state legislature by arguing his office granted him powers greater than those of the governor and the courts combined.
The Supreme Court dismissed that last bit of nonsense with a ruling that landed somewhere between a snort of dismay and a guffaw of disbelief.
Those episodes were all embarrassing but not necessarily illegal.
Rokita likely crossed that line, though, with his persecution of Dr. Caitlin Bernard.
Last summer, Bernard performed an abortion for a 10-year-old Ohio girl who had been raped. The doctor did so with the consent of the girl and her parents and while notifying all appropriate authorities in Indiana and Ohio.
That meant nothing to Rokita. He rushed to Fox News to accuse Bernard of all sorts of malfeasance without providing any proof.
When Bernard and her attorney offered ample evidence that the doctor had followed every law, Rokita refused to retreat or retract his statements—even as Fox distanced itself from what he’d said. Instead, the attorney general doubled down and began a campaign to make the doctor’s life miserable.
His conduct earned him condemnation from law professors at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, former U.S. Appellate Court Judge John Tinder and former Republican U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, who also served as U.S. attorney for Indiana’s southern district.
Worse, the former dean of the IU law school, Lauren Robel, asked the disciplinary commission to investigate Rokita’s conduct and Marion County Superior Court Judge Heather Welch ruled in December that the attorney general had violated state law in his campaign to punish Bernard.
Now, the matter is before the disciplinary commission again.
This gives everyone involved—the Supreme Court, the governor, the legislators, etc.—a second chance to make clear that Indiana’s top lawyer must follow the law and bring honor to the legal profession.
Let’s hope they take it.