Indiana attorney general testifies he didn’t grope women

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s attorney general testified Thursday that he did nothing wrong at a party where a state lawmaker and three legislative staffers say he drunkenly groped them, allegations that could threaten his law license and ability to remain in office.

Republican Curtis Hill was less defiant during his hearing on professional misconduct charges than when he labeled the charges “vicious and false” after they became public last year. However, he said he quickly felt he was under an unfair attack from the initial review of the allegations directed by legislative leaders without his knowledge.

Hill testified he briefly touched Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon’s back while leaning in to hear what she was saying during the March 2018 party and was startled to realize she was wearing a backless dress. Hill said “absolutely not” when asked whether he grabbed Reardon’s buttocks, an allegation she made from the witness stand on Monday.

The attorney general testified for nearly five hours, wrapping up the four-day hearing. It could be months before the former state Supreme Court justice overseeing the case submits a report to the Indiana Supreme Court and it decides on any punishment.

Hill, 58, also refuted testimony from the three female staffers — ages 23 to 26 at the time — that he inappropriately touched their backs or buttocks and made unwelcomed sexual comments during the party at an Indianapolis bar marking the end of the legislative session.

“I didn’t touch any woman in a sensual or intimate manner,” Hill said.

Reardon testified that Hill, smelling of alcohol and with glassy eyes, was holding a drink in his right hand and put his left hand on her shoulder, then slid his hand down her open-back dress to clench her buttocks. “A squeeze, a firm grasp,” she said.

Hill admitted to drinking perhaps three glasses of wine, a vodka martini and a shot of whiskey over about five hours that night as he stopped at two restaurants with friends before going to the party about midnight.

“I don’t believe I was intoxicated to the point I couldn’t control myself,” Hill said.

His lawyers have questioned whether his actions were misinterpreted during the party marking the end of the 2018 legislative session, where alcohol was flowing along with loud music and conversation. They also argue that he didn’t do anything improper as a lawyer and shouldn’t face law license sanctions because a special prosecutor declined to file criminal charges against him.

Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission attorneys maintain the women didn’t misperceive Hill’s actions and that he should be held to high ethical standards as the state’s chief legal officer.

Hill denied a claim by a woman that he propositioned him for sex when she worked under him when he was the Elkhart County prosecutor before taking office as attorney general in early 2017. The Elkhart County employee testified Wednesday that Hill leaned over her desk at the end of a conversation in December 2016, telling her they should have sex “because it would be hot.”

Hill said he instead told the woman, who is also a dance instructor, that they should have been partners in a local charity dance event because “We could have been (expletive) hot.”

Hill defended calling the groping allegations “vicious” by saying he was angry that he was never questioned about his actions at the party before a summary of the women’s claims was included in a confidential report to legislative leaders that was leaked to news reporters.

Within days, Hill faced calls from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP and Democratic legislative leaders for his resignation.

“I really became suspicious of this whole thing,” Hill said, and calling what he faced a “political attack.”

A disciplinary commission lawyer questioned Hill about numerous emails between him, top aides in the attorney general’s office, political advisers and supporters as they prepared and shared op-ed columns, letters to the editor and other public responses to the allegations.

One from March 2019 included a suggestion from a political adviser of providing information about disciplinary commission members to “conservative media that Holcomb cronies and liberals” were behind the commission’s misconduct complaint.

Hill maintained that any involvement of attorney general office employees was done on their personal time using their own email accounts.