The Indiana Citizen
September 26, 2023
Since signing a $250,000 contract in April to provide legal assistance for Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office, conservative attorney James Bopp, Jr., has begun representing state defendants in five cases.
In the most recent case, Bopp (pictured above) is defending state officials against an election lawsuit brought by John Rust, the Jackson County Republican who claims he is being illegally blocked from appearing on the May 2024 primary ballot for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Mike Braun.
The Terre Haute attorney is also representing state officeholders in a fight with Indianapolis Public Schools over a state statute affecting the sale of public school buildings and is also representing the LaPorte County prosecutor in a dispute with the La Porte County commissioners over email access. Moreover, Bopp is representing the attorney general who is intervening in a federal case about a state law enforcement statute.
And he continues to represent Rokita in a dispute before the Court of Appeals of Indiana to prevent the release of a report about the private-sector job the attorney general held when he first entered office.
A sixth case representing the Monroe County Election Board was resolved when the candidate withdrew from the Bloomington City Council race. The candidate was found to be ineligible because he did not live at the address he put on his election paperwork.
Bopp’s contract is open-ended. His firm, the Bopp Law Firm, is not assigned any specific case or legal issue but rather is to provide legal representation to the state in litigation matters. The contract ends Dec. 31, 2024 and is capped at $250,000.
The attorney general’s office did not respond to an inquiry from The Indiana Citizen as to why outside legal counsel was assigned to defend against the Rust lawsuit. This case involves a challenge to state statute and the Indiana Constitution, seemingly areas where the attorney general’s own lawyers would have expertise.
Bopp said questions about why cases are referred to outside counsel should be directed to the attorney general, who makes the decisions on assigning cases.
“I consider the statutes that we’re defending to be really important to the state and to the public welfare,” Bopp said. “I think we can provide first-class representation. That’s available to the AG’s office; they have to decide when they want to use it.”
Bopp said when his firm entered into the contract, the attorney general’s office did not mention any specific cases but spoke, generally, about needing help with various pieces of litigation. He said the firm has submitted invoices for its work, but he does not keep track of billing so he does not know if his firm’s billing is getting close to the cap.
The Indiana Comptroller did not respond to a media inquiry asking for copies of the invoices submitted by the Bopp firm.
Bopp said his law firm would be open to extending the contract and raising the monetary cap.
“We are perfectly capable of handling what they refer to us,” Bopp said. “If we meet the cap, they would have to make the decision on whether to extend the cap or have us not handle these. So when, and if, that time arises, it will be dealt with, I’m sure.”
Cases assigned to The Bopp Law Firm
- John Rust v. Diego Morales, et al., case no. 49D13-2309-PL-036487
Rust has filed a complaint and motion for preliminary injunction, challenging Indiana Code section 3-8-2-7(a)(4), which requires him to get the consent of the Jackson County Republican Party chair, before he can appear on the May ballot. However, the party chair is refusing to put him in the GOP primary, because Rust previously voted in the Democratic primary.
Rust argues that not only does the statute violate the U.S. and Indiana constitutions, he said it is overly broad and the chair’s interpretation “violates multiple canons of statutory construction.”
The statute, Rust says in his lawsuit, “creates a cycle of voter disenfranchisement. There are no choices on the ballot so Hoosiers do not vote in the primaries. Then Hoosiers are precluded from running for office because they did not vote in the primaries.”
Friday, Rust’s motion for change of judge was granted and the case will be removed from Marion County Superior Court Judge James Joven.
- Board of School Commissioners for the City of Indianapolis v. Todd Rokita, Dr. Katie Jenner, Scott Besset et al., case no. 49D01-2308-PL-032783.
Indianapolis Public Schools is fighting the state’s effort to block the transfer of a school building to a local nonprofit that helps troubled youths and adults of color. In August, the Indiana Secretary of Education told IPS that under Indiana Code chapter 20-26-7.1, dubbed the “Dollar Law,” a building has to be made available to charter schools for lease or purchase for one dollar. IPS countered it is exempt from the law because it is distributing a portion of the tax levy money to charter schools.
The state defendants have filed a notice of refusal, saying they do not consent to the assignment of the case to the Marion County Commercial Court docket. They asked that the case remain on the court’s “standard docket.”
The commercial court is presided over by Marion County Superior Court Judge Heather Welch. She also presided over Indianapolis OB/GYN Caitlin Bernard’s lawsuit against Rokita and issued the order that found the attorney general had violated confidentiality laws.
Welch’s order is part of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission’s just-issued misconduct complaint against Rokita.
A hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction has been scheduled for Oct. 16. The state has entered a motion, asking the court to prohibit IPS from transferring any school building during this litigation.
- LaPorte County Prosecutor Sean Fagan in Fagan v. The Board of Commissioners of the County of LaPorte, case no. 46C01-2306-PL-001086.
Sean Fagan, the LaPorte County prosecutor, is seeking access to his office’s past email records, which are currently in possession of the LaPorte County Commissioners. Fagan says the former prosecutor, John Lake, did not provide access to the emails when Fagan took office Jan. 1, 2023. The county commissioners are refusing to release the emails, which Fagan believes contain important information related to prior and pending cases.
The Bopp firm was assigned to represent Fagan because the attorney general has a conflict in this case.
All the LaPorte County judges and magistrates have recused themselves and when the parties could not agree on a special judge to preside, the clerk of the court chose Porter County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clymer.
- Donald Nicodemus v. City of South Bend, case no. 3:23-cv-744.
Donald Nicodemus, a citizen-journalist, is challenging Indiana Code section 35-44.1-2-14, which prohibits a person from intentionally approaching within 25 feet of a law enforcement officer, after being ordered to stop. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, Nicodemus argues the state statute violates the First Amendment.
The attorney general’s office filed a notice to intervene Aug. 21 to defend the constitutionality of the statute. Both the city of South Bend and the attorney general have filed separate answers to the complaint, and the court has granted more time for the attorney general to respond to the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction to prevent the enforcement of the statute.
- Theodore Rokita v. Barbara Tully, case no. 23A-PL-00705.
Rokita is fighting to keep private an informal advisory opinion from the Indiana Office of the Inspector General about his previous job with Apex Benefits. He continued to hold that job when he was sworn in as attorney general in January 2021 and said the opinion from the inspector general found no conflict of interest.
However, Rokita has refused to release the opinion. The Marion County Superior Court ordered Rokita to make the opinion public, although the judge allowed him to redact as much as he wanted.
Rokita assigned Bopp to the case’s appeal. The attorney general is claiming an amendment to state statute, made in the closing hours of the 2023 Indiana General Assembly, clarifies advisory opinions are confidential.
Both sides are filing their briefs with the Court of Appeals.
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 IndyStar.com, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal.