INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A state lawmaker testified Monday she told a lobbyist that Indiana’s attorney general was a “creeper” soon after he allegedly drunkenly groped her at a bar.
Attorney General Curtis Hill looked on as Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon and three other women described what they called unwelcomed and inappropriate touching of their backs or buttocks and sexual comments during a party celebrating the end of the 2018 legislative session. Their testimony before a former state Supreme Court justice opened a professional misconduct hearing that could last up to a week and lead to sanctions against Hill’s law license.
Hill disputes the claims from Reardon and three legislative staffers, and his lawyers questioned whether his actions were misinterpreted.
Reardon, a Democrat from Munster, testified that she encountered Hill soon after she arrived at the party about 1 a.m. and that he leaned in close to as if to hear her even though she wasn’t saying anything to him.
Reardon said Hill 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 is hand on her buttocks. “A squeeze, a firm grasp,” she said.
Hill smelled of alcohol and had glassy eyes, Reardon said.
“I just said back off and left,” she said, then running into a lobbyist who knew Hill. “Your boy is a (expletive) creeper.”
Hill, a 58-year-old Republican who is expected to testify later in the week, has denied wrongdoing and resisted calls from GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state government leaders for his resignation. Hill’s attorneys argue that he didn’t do anything improper as a lawyer and shouldn’t face law license sanctions because he was cleared by a special prosecutor.
His attorneys also discussed the frivolity of the party attended by perhaps 100 people, where alcohol was flowing and there was loud music and conversation. Donald Lundberg, one of Hill’s lawyers, said the allegations come amid cultural shifts over physical contact and what people regard as inappropriate.
Reardon and one Republican and two Democratic legislative staffers — ages 23 to 26 at the time of the party — have filed a federal lawsuit against Hill alleging sexual harassment and defamation. A special prosecutor declined to file criminal charges against Hill, and a state inspector general’s report determined Hill didn’t break any state ethics rules.
The three legislative staffers all testified that Hill appeared intoxicated and that they didn’t know Hill personally when he approached them at the bar.
Niki DaSilva, a former Republican Senate aide, choked up at times while saying Hill told her she needed to “show a little skin” in order to get a drink and later grabbed her wrist behind her back.
“He pulled my hand and my arm down with his and touched my butt,” DaSilva said.
She said Hill smirked at her after letting go, after which she felt “white-hot anger and embarrassment.”
The staffers said they didn’t report their allegations to their bosses until about two months later out of fear over Hill’s top state government position and because they only gradually learned about each other’s encounters with him.
Democratic House staffer Samantha Lozano testified Hill told her she was “really hot” before putting his arm around her waist and pulling her next to him.
Gabrielle Brock, a Senate Democratic staff member, said Hill sat down on a bar stool next to her and gave her “a sexual backrub” lasting perhaps a couple minutes before she could get away.
Brock said she regretted reporting Hill because “it has been over a year and a half and he hasn’t faced any consequences.”
Recent disciplinary case filings by Hill include admissions that he drank three glasses of wine, a martini and a shot of whiskey over several hours the night of the party. The filings say Hill denies allegations of touching Reardon’s buttocks and rubbing one staffer’s back but will testify he “did not intentionally place his hand … in the vicinity” of another staffer’s buttocks.
Hill’s lawyers wrote that he interacted with dozens of people during the party. They said Hill “has an engaging personality and often physically interacts with others by placing a hand on the other person’s arm, shoulder or back. He also has some difficulty hearing in one ear, so he is prone to leaning close to people with whom he is conversing, especially in loud environments.”
Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission attorney Seth Pruden said in opening statements that the four women didn’t misperceive Hill’s actions.
“The women know the difference between a touch on the shoulder and a sexual grab,” Pruden said.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby is presiding at the hearing. She will later issue a report to the state Supreme Court, which could take actions include dismissing the complaint, a reprimand and temporary suspension or permanently removal of Hill’s law license.
By TOM DAVIES
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