“I stand before you a condemned man. Condemned without trial. Condemned without notice. Condemned without the benefits of any basic rights that ensure fairness.
“These last few days have seen my name and reputation dragged through the gutter in ways I could never imagine. Apparently, in this climate, the standard is guilty and ‘who cares if you’re innocent?’”
Before he was chosen by 1.6 million Hoosiers in the 2016 general election to be the state’s attorney general, Curtis Hill was a four-term prosecutor in Elkhart County. On Monday, he stood before the television cameras in his state capitol office and delivered a measured, reasoned and effective opening statement in what could be a painful process of self-examination for the state and its public institutions.
Indiana Attorney Gen. Curtis Hill finds himself in quite a pickle, abandoned by an Indiana Republican Party that just recently considered him its rising star. Party leaders, including Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, have called for his resignation after a memo accusing the attorney general of inexcusably loutish behavior at an Indianapolis bar was obtained by the media.
The party will survive this evolving scandal better than the man, whose career and political ambitions have taken a considerable, perhaps unsurvivable hit. Hill acknowledged as much Monday in his first extended public comments on the matter.
“A week ago today, I had a name, and I want my name back,” Hill said, signaling that he intends to fight to restore his reputation in both legal and public arenas.
Hill proclaims innocence and demands a thorough and impartial investigation. He should have that, certainly, but if the accounts are true — even if the facts do not support a criminal charge — he should resign his office.
He should resign because, if true, the actions described by multiple witnesses demean the image of his office, raise serious questions about his judgment and represent an ethical lapse that is beneath the holder of a state constitutional office.
Here’s what we have been told in published reports:
• At a party at an Indianapolis bar in March to celebrate the ending of the 2018 legislative session, an intoxicated Hill grabbed two women by the buttocks; rubbed another woman’s back against her wishes; inappropriately touched a fourth woman; and made suggestive comments to still more women at the bar, telling them they would get better service if they showed more leg or skin.
• Legislative leaders of both parties were made aware of the allegations, and an internal investigation was conducted; six women who were at the party were interviewed. An eight-page memorandum of findings was prepared, and 11 days after receiving the finished report in mid-June, the leaders confronted Hill. By that time, reporters for the Indianapolis Star had begun asking questions, having obtained a leaked copy of the memo.
The chain of events as described are almost stupifying in the lack of judgment they suggest. How so? Let us count the ways:
1. Hill is described by witnesses as being inebriated at a party in a public bar where he made inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances to several women, including a state legislator and House staff members. Men, powerful men, should know by now they can’t get away with that after a nearly year-long national conversation about respect and boundaries in the workplace and what constitutes a crime. It is especially puzzling that the state’s top attorney, a former county prosecutor, who has prosecuted sexual assault cases, would put himself in that position.
2. Legislative leaders did the right thing when the allegations were brought to them, but they sat on the completed investigation for 11 days before confronting Hill. The public should wonder why it took so long, or why calls for Hill’s resignation and a formal investigation by the state inspector general’s office did not happen until after the media got wind of the story.
The women who came forward with their information deserve support. Their voices should be heard, and they should be believed. However, that doesn’t mean their accounts shouldn’t be examined carefully. That is the meaning of due diligence, which is the essence of fairness not only to the accused but to the accusers.
It is imperative that the state inspector general’s office, which is authorized by law to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch of government, move quickly to ascertain the facts and put them before the public.
In his remarks Monday, Hill said, “Folks, we are living in a time where accusations, alone, have the power of conviction.”
What happens next will test the truth of that statement.