Partygoers say Indiana attorney general seemed drunk at bar

TOM DAVIES
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Indiana Attorney General Groping Allegations

Indiana's Attorney General Curtis Hill arrives for a hearing at the state Supreme Court in the Statehouse, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Indianapolis. Hill faces a hearing over whether allegations that he drunkenly groped four women at a bar amounted to professional misconduct. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's attorney general seemed intoxicated as he made his way around a bar the night he is accused of groping a state lawmaker and three other women, fellow partygoers testified Tuesday.

Nine people who attended the party testified Tuesday during Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill's professional misconduct hearing , along with two legislative leaders who didn't attend but said he admitted drinking heavily that night.

Lawyers for the state attorney disciplinary commission questioned the partygoers about what they saw Hill do during the March 2018 gathering to mark the end of that year's legislative session.

Their testimony came a day after Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon and three female legislative staffers described what they called unwelcomed and inappropriate touching of their backs or buttocks and sexual comments by Hill.

Hill disputes the women's claims, and his lawyers are questioning whether his actions were misinterpreted during a party where alcohol was flowing along with loud music and conversation.

Most of those attending the annual unofficial gathering at an Indianapolis bar were state legislators, legislative staff members or lobbyists, according to testimony from partygoers. Those testifying Tuesday said it was unusual to see a statewide elected official such as Hill at the party and that he soon drew attention to himself.

Dawna Smith, a longtime state Senate Republican staff member, said she saw Hill at the party soon after she and co-workers arrived about 1 a.m. and that he appeared very intoxicated.

"He was kind of swaying and his eyes were half closed," Smith said. "He wasn't very stable, physically."

Smith said she saw Hill stand up perhaps five times from a barstool and rub his body up against women who were passing by him. Smith testified she later saw Hill rubbing Reardon down her open-back dress as the Democratic legislator recounted on Monday.

Several witnesses recalled seeing Hill dancing suggestively with a female lobbyist when no one else was dancing.

Laura McCaffery, a lobbyist who attended the party, said Hill's shirt was unbuttoned, exposing part of his chest, and that he put his arms around her and a friend.

"It felt kind of creepy," she said. "We didn't know him, and he was kind of touchy."

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.

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.

Former Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, who stepped down after the 2018 session, and House Speaker Brian Bosma said they learned about the allegations against Hill in mid-May. The Legislature hired a law firm to review what had happened, and the two leaders testified they talked by phone with Hill in late June 2018 about the allegations after an Indianapolis Star reporter started inquiring about the investigation.

Bosma said Hill told them he was "shocked" and had not intended to touch anyone inappropriately.

"He said three or four times that he had a lot to drink that night," Bosma said.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby is presiding at the hearing that could last through Friday. 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.

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 and 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."