Court weighs groping suit against Indiana’s ex-top lawyer

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WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 09: Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill speaks as Washington, DC Attorney General Karl Racine (L) and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (2nd L) listen during a news conference in front of the U.S. Supreme Court September 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. Fifty state attorneys general are joining together to investigate Google’s possible antitrust violations. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A lawyer for women who say Indiana’s former attorney general drunkenly groped them argued Thursday that a federal appeals court should allow their lawsuit against the state over his actions to go forward on the grounds that they were state employees.

A lower court judge blocked the three women from suing the state for sexual harassment, ruling last year that they worked for the legislative branch and that then-Attorney General Curtis Hill had no employment authority over them despite his elected position as state government’s top lawyer.

Hannah Kaufman Joseph, an attorney for the women, told the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Chicago that the ruling would create a “loophole” allowing the state to avoid responsibility.

The three women had staff jobs with the Indiana House or Senate when they attended a 2018 party at an Indianapolis bar, where they say Hill inappropriately touched their backs or buttocks and made unwelcome sexual comments.

“There is a big difference between whether the state is the employer, or the House and Senate are the employer,” Joseph said. “The House and Senate will argue that they have no ability to control Curtis Hill … therefore no liability.”

The Indiana Supreme Court ordered a 30-day suspension of Hill’s law license last year after finding “by clear and convincing evidence that (Hill) committed the criminal act of battery” against the women and then-state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, a Munster Democrat.

Hill denied the allegations, but they were a key campaign issue against him when he lost the 2020 Republican attorney general nomination for his reelection to Todd Rokita, who took office in January.

Aaron Craft of the Indiana attorney general’s office told the appeals court that the lawsuit against the state shouldn’t move ahead because courts have long held that Indiana House and Senate officials have the direct authority to hire and fire employees.

The three-judge appeals court panel didn’t say when it would make a decision in the case.

Hill faces a separate lawsuit filed by the women in Marion County court, seeking unspecified monetary damages against Hill on claims that he committed battery against them and defamed them with repeated statements that their allegations were false. Trial is scheduled for September.

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