Sep 19, 2023 - News

Rokita headed to disciplinary commission

A man in a suit sits at a desk

Attorney General Todd Rokita is running for re-election next year. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

The Indiana Supreme Court's disciplinary commission has accused Attorney General Todd Rokita of violating confidentiality laws and rules of professional conduct during his investigation of Caitlin Bernard, the doctor he targeted for providing an abortion to a 10-year-old patient last summer and for violating confidentiality laws by publicly discussing it.

Driving the news: The commission filed the complaint against Rokita yesterday, following an investigation that found "reasonable cause" to believe Rokita's actions — if proved — "would warrant disciplinary action."

Why it matters: If Rokita's found guilty, discipline could range from public reprimand to disbarment, which would cost him his elected office.

The intrigue: Much of what Rokita is accused of doing played out on national television, in public statements to media outlets and in social media posts.

  • State law requires that complaints against a doctor's medical license "shall be held in strict confidence until the attorney general files notice with the board of the attorney general's intent to prosecute the license."

Catch up quick: In July 2022, Rokita said on Fox News his office was investigating whether Bernard had failed to report the 10-year-old patient's abortion and sexual abuse as required by law.

  • He called Bernard "an abortion activist, acting as a doctor, with a history of failing to report."
  • Rokita filed an administrative complaint with the Indiana Medical Licensing Board against Bernard in November.
  • The board found that Bernard had followed all reporting laws but violated privacy laws when she publicly discussed the case.

What they're saying: The complaint against Rokita alleges that his public comments about his investigation of Bernard before his complaint was filed in November violate the state's confidentiality laws and rules of professional conduct.

  • It requests he be disciplined "as warranted."

The other side: In a response filed with the court on Monday, Rokita says "confidentiality should not be required" because Bernard violated her patient's confidentiality.

  • He also said he did not violate the confidentiality statute.

The big picture: Bernard sparked a national conversation about abortion — and became Rokita's target — after she told the IndyStar about a 10-year-old patient who traveled to Indiana for an abortion from her home state of Ohio in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade.

  • At the time, abortion was banned after six weeks in Ohio, but still legal in Indiana.
  • Indiana passed a near-total ban on abortion the next month.

How it works: If the court finds that there was misconduct, it orders a disciplinary sanction, which can vary based on the seriousness of the case.

  • Options include a private or public reprimand, suspension from practicing law for a limited time, suspension with reinstatement pending fitness or permanent disbarment.

What's next: Rokita has hired Washington, D.C.-based law firm Schaerr Jaffee to represent him in the misconduct case and taxpayers will foot the $550 per hour bill, a spokesperson for the attorney general's office confirmed to Axios.

  • The attorney general's office has contracted with the firm to act as outside counsel on abortion-related issues for several years.
  • The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that the office amended its contract with Schaeer Jaffee in December to cover an additional $100,000 — for a total of $900,000 — to work on Bernard-related matters.

Of note: Rokita is the second straight Indiana attorney general to be charged with disciplinary misconduct.

  • His predecessor, Curtis Hill, had his law license suspended for a month related to charges he groped several women at a party celebrating the end of the legislation session.
  • Hill, who denied the allegations, is currently seeking the 2024 GOP gubernatorial nomination.
  • Rokita is seeking re-election to the attorney general's office next year.

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