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Disciplinary commission files to unseal Rokita agreement after contradictory remarks

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Disciplinary commission files to unseal Rokita agreement after contradictory remarks

Dec 11, 2023 | 3:15 pm ET
By Niki Kelly
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Disciplinary commission files to unseal Rokita agreement after contradictory remarks
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The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed a request Monday to release documents in Attorney General Todd Rokita's disciplinary case. (Screenshot of livestream)

The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission on Monday filed a petition asking to release a conditional agreement signed by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita after he publicly denied wrongdoing following a settlement.

The petition said Rokita’s public statements are inconsistent with what he agreed to in the conditional agreement and have caused confusion.

The agreement and related affidavit are generally confidential under court rules.

“Respondent’s actions flouted the authority of the Court, called into question the sincerity of Respondent’s assertions to the Court in his Conditional Agreement and affidavit, and caused damage to the public’s perception of the integrity and justness of the attorney discipline system,” the motion said. “In such circumstances, the extraordinary measure of publicly releasing the Conditional Agreement and accompanying affidavit is necessary to restore public faith that lawyers cannot manipulate the discipline system to obtain a desired result and then counter with a public statement disavowing the acceptance of wrongdoing.”

Rokita responded late Monday night, saying he took responsibility for two of the three accusations made against him when the allegations were filed.

“I remain responsible for everything my office and I do and say. And like everything, I see this situation as an opportunity to learn and improve for the next time,” he said in a September release.

In his latest response, Rokita said he is not aware of any requirement to indicate contrition with every public statement.

“Nothing I said or signed was false. The Attorney General’s Office cannot “un-confuse” a media who has a predetermined narrative,” a statement from Rokita said. “Ultimately, this is about my opponents pressuring the Disciplinary Commission and the courts to do what they can’t do at the ballot box. I’m not going to be silenced from communicating what I know to be true about health care providers or entities who violate patient privacy, or any other issue important to voters and taxpayers. It is my duty to uphold Indiana law, and I am not going to stop fighting for what the majority of this state knows is right.”

The history

Rokita was publicly reprimanded in November for his televised comments about the doctor who oversaw a medication abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio.

But immediately after the settlement was made public, Rokita issued a defiant statement in which he called his comments “truthful” and “factual” and attacked the news media, medical field and “cancel culture” for their handling of the case against him.

In that response, he took no responsibility publicly for violating ethics rules for lawyers.

Dr. Caitlin Bernard performed an abortion on the girl in June 2022. Although she gave few identifying details when she told the Indianapolis Star about it, the case went national.

In July 2022, Rokita told Fox News commentator Jesse Watters that Bernard was an “abortion activist acting as a doctor — with a history of failing to report.”

In a per curiam opinion, the court’s five justices ruled that Rokita violated two of the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers. They said Rokita’s comments constituted an “extrajudicial statement” that he knew — or reasonably should’ve known — would be publicly disseminated and would prejudice related legal proceedings.

They also his statements had “no substantial purpose” other than to embarrass or burden Bernard.

In a sworn affidavit, Rokita admitted to the two violations and acknowledged he couldn’t have defended himself successfully on the charges if the matter were tried.

In exchange for those admissions, the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission agreed to dismiss a third charge: intentionally making or directing others to make public statements about the investigation before it was referred to the Medical Licensing Board — which the commission alleged was “in contravention of the duty of confidentiality required” under state law.

The court said Rokita’s “acceptance of responsibility,” cooperation during the disciplinary process and his clean disciplinary history were mitigating factors.

“But that same length of experience also ‘counsels that he should have known better’ than to conduct himself in the manner he did,” the ruling noted.

Indiana Supreme Court reprimands Rokita over televised abortion doctor comments, in split decision

Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Christopher Goff dissented from the public reprimand as the means of punishment because they believed it was “too lenient,” according to the opinion — pointing to Rokita’s position as attorney general and the “scope and breadth” of his misconduct.

The commission said negotiations with Rokita to voluntarily release the documents were at an impasse and that Indiana law allows the court to release otherwise confidential information under special circumstances.

“The Commission believes that the public interest will best be served by allowing public access to the Conditional Agreement and the accompanying affidavit signed by Respondent. Respondent’s public statements in his press release, particularly his remark that he “was found not to have violated anyone’s confidentiality or any law” have created confusion as to whether Respondent admitted to any misconduct and the extent of the reprimanded misconduct.”

The commission said it has received requests for the documentation from the media and believes it is in the public interest “to obtain a clearer account of what Respondent admitted to and the full extent of his reprimanded conduct.”

Since the initial settlement, several Hoosiers have filed new complaints against with Rokita alleging perjury. That has resulted in a second investigation, the Indiana Citizen reported.

Verified Petition (1)