Indiana State Attorney General Curtis T. Hill Jr., a rising star in the Republican party, had his license to practice law suspended for 30 days by the state Supreme Court for inappropriately touching four women during a 2018 party.
Hill, 59, who made history in 2016 by becoming the first African American elected as Indiana's top law enforcement official, said in a statement that he accepted the ruling issued on Monday "with humility and respect" to the state's highest court and will begin his suspension on May 18.
"I offer my deepest gratitude to my family, friends and the entire staff of the Office of the Attorney General. My staff has worked tirelessly and without interruption and will continue to do so on behalf of all Hoosiers," said Hill, the married father of five.
Hill said that his chief deputy, Aaron Negangard, will assume his responsibilities until his license to practice law is automatically reinstated on June 17.
In their ruling, the five judges that comprise the state Supreme Court wrote that it found "clear and convincing evidence" that Hill committed acts of misdemeanor battery. The court also found that Hill's behavior violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules.
"Having reviewed the record, we readily conclude there is ample evidence showing that the manner of (Hill's) touches was both 'rude' and 'insolent,'" the court's ruling reads.
The complaints against Hill stem from a party in March 2018 at an Indianapolis bar attended by lawmakers, lobbyist and legislative staffers celebrating the end of that year's legislative session.
Hill was accused of circling the bar and inappropriately touching the four women, including then state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, who is now a Democratic candidate for Congress, according to the complaint.
Reardon claimed that Hill touched her "bare back, rubbing his hand down her back down to or just above her buttocks without her consent," according to the court's ruling.
Three other female legislative staffers, all in their 20s, claimed they were subjected to similar behavior. One claimed Hill groped her buttocks, another accused him of rubbing her back without her consent and a third accused him of putting his arm around her waist and pulling her toward him.
"The four women each were clear and unequivocal in their testimony regarding Respondent's specific acts, and to varying extents the acts described by the four women ... were witnessed by each other and by other people at the bar," according to the Supreme Court's ruling.
When the allegations were first made, the Indiana legislature hired a law firm to investigate.
Several prominent Indiana politicians, including Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, have called on Hill, who is up for reelection this year, to resign.
After a special prosecutor investigated the allegations and decided not to file criminal charges against Hill, the four women who accused him filed a federal lawsuit in June 2019 alleging the state of Indiana inadequately protected Statehouse employees from sexual harassment and workplace retaliation. The lawsuit has yet to be resolved.
At the time the legal action was taken, Candelaria Reardon said she hoped it would spur "institutional change."
"When an elected official betrays the trust, the public trust, in such an egregious way so as to commit sexual battery and assault and doesn't have the honor to resign, to maintain the dignity of the office, there have to be consequences for those actions and there have to be options to hold him accountable," Candelaria Reardon said.
During a news conference on Monday shortly after the court ruling was made public, Holcomb said "obviously, this decision bolsters the case of the victims going forward on the route that they're on."
"Does the punishment fit the crime? We'll see," Holcomb said. "There's no good news in all of this for anyone and everyone that's involved in this specific case, but, suffice it to say, my position, my personal position, has not changed since I reviewed the facts myself going on about two years ago."
Holcomb said he has been seeking guidance from his legal team on what steps to take next and will be announcing them soon.
Lauren Ganapini, executive director of the Indiana Democratic Party, said Holcomb and other state Republican leaders should force Hill to step down.
"Curtis Hill is a disgrace," Ganapini said in a statement. "His conduct as an elected official was repulsive and will be a lasting stain on the office and the party he serves."