The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, November 18, 2020 1:00 am


Legal costs

Hill's term ending with last quixotic quest

In just over a month, Curtis Hill will no longer be Indiana's attorney general.

His term will end in December, and Todd Rokita – a fellow Republican who won the office Nov. 3 after defeating Hill in an earlier GOP convention battle – will take over as the state's top legal officer.

But Hill is not leaving quietly, instead tying the state and its more than 6 million residents to a quixotic quest by President Donald Trump to challenge the results of the election.

Hill announced Nov. 10 he was joining attorneys general in five other states in filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a Pennsylvania court ruling. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision moved to Nov. 6, the deadline for mail-in ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 to be received by elections officials there. The ballots had to be postmarked by Election Day. 

The brief argues Pennsylvania's high court improperly removed the Nov. 3 deadline and arbitrarily replaced it with the later date.

Only state legislatures have authority in “matters related to elections laws,” Hill said.

“With this brief, we are simply asking the Supreme Court to continue to uphold that principle,” he said in a statement announcing the filing of the brief.

Elections officials in Pennsylvania have said about 10,000 ballots arrived during the extended receipt period. Democratic President-elect Joe Biden leads Trump by 73,000 votes in Pennsylvania, according to an Associated Press tally, so tossing the later ballots would not change the results.

It's fair to question whether Indiana's joining the legal battle alongside Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee and West Virginia is an appropriate use of state resources and an appropriate focus for Hill.

John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, called on Hill to reimburse the state for time and resources used to prepare the brief.

“Taxpayers shouldn't be funding Curtis Hill's audition for conservative TV gigs,” Zody said in a statement. “Once again, Curtis Hill has to be reminded he works for Indiana taxpayers, not the president.”

Lauren Houck, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the documents were drafted and prepared by Oklahoma officials and cost Indiana nothing, though Hill's office drafted a news release to announce the brief was filed. 

“This means that – like other multistate briefs our office joins – our office did not spend any money on these briefs,” Houck said in an email.

“It's like using the state copier to print résumés,” Zody counters.

John P. Bushemi, an attorney and former Democratic state lawmaker, told the Times of Northwest Indiana he believes Hill is breaking the law by using public resources to back the court fight.

“These are the kinds of things that cause citizens and taxpayers to lose confidence in government, and that's not good,” Bushemi told the newspaper.

Hill in 2017 commissioned a $279,000 renovation project for his Statehouse office. The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly reported last year that Hill regularly spent some of his work week away from Indianapolis at an office the state leased for him in Elkhart.

A case in which Hill was accused of groping legislative employees and a state representative has cost the state at least $274,000.

We hope the questionable expenses at the attorney general's office end with Hill's term.

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