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New records shed small light on state dollars spent for Rokita discipline, Bernard cases

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New records shed small light on state dollars spent for Rokita discipline, Bernard cases

May 29, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Casey Smith
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New records shed small light on state dollars spent for Rokita discipline, Bernard cases
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An example of redacted legal invoices for services provided to Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita's office. (Screenshot of records provided by the Indiana Attorney General's Office)

New, partially-unredacted public records offer a glimpse into public dollars so far spent to defend Attorney General Todd Rokita’s law license.

Payments related to the attorney general’s disciplinary case is likely far greater than what’s visible in the documents, but redactions continue to make a total sum difficult to calculate. 

Rokita’s office last week released 86 pages of attorney invoices from the Schaerr Jaffe law firm dated between August 2022 and October 2023. An earlier batch of records obtained by reporters last year were heavily redacted by the Indiana Comptroller, who pays the invoices. 

The Washington, D.C.-based law firm was hired by the state to defend Rokita, whom the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission began investigating after a complaint was filed in late 2022, as first reported by the Indiana Citizen.

Story continues below.

AG invoices_July 2022 through Oct 2023

 

The investigation — and ultimate reprimand — stemmed from the Republican attorney general’s televised comments about Indianapolis doctor Caitlin Bernard, who oversaw a medication abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio in 2022.

But the same firm was handling the attorney general’s medical licensure case against Bernard, along with other cases. Black-outs to the invoices had previously made it impossible to distinguish which expenditures were related to Rokita’s disciplinary matter.

The new records made available by Rokita’s office show only a few expenses directly related to his disciplinary case. Even so, documents bring other spending to light — indicating more than $100,000 spent in the weeks surrounding Bernard’s case before the Indiana Medical Licensing Board.

Rokita’s office referred the Indiana Capital Chronicle to a statement it issued last year:

“We will continue using Schaerr Jaffe as this office has done throughout multiple administrations — whether it’s related to abortion activist, Caitlin Bernard, separate pro-life issues, or other cases in general. Of course, public money is involved in any matter which defends the work of a state attorney whose efforts are performed on behalf of the state.”

Redactions remain — but some new numbers emerge

The Capital Chronicle and Indiana Citizen first requested the invoices in October 2023.

The Indiana Comptroller handled the initial request and released 44 pages of heavily redacted documents shortly after.

Luke Britt, the Indiana Public Access Counselor (PAC) said in a March 12 report that some of those redactions were appropriate, but recommended that state officials only block out portions of the documents “consistent with basic tenets of transparency and good governance.”

In response to a records request made after Luke’s opinion, Rokita’s office released the slightly-less redacted invoices last week.

Relevant invoice entries cite “disciplinary commission” or “DC case” to reference work logged and billed by staff at the Schaerr Jaffe firm.

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Visible among the charges are at least $385 spent on “next steps in litigation” in July and August 2023. Another $300 was spent in September 2023 on “continuing education” for Schaerr Jaffe attorneys working on Rokita’s case.

It’s still unclear what redacted invoice items around the same time were related to, but those charges total thousands of additional dollars.

The invoices provided by the attorney general’s office were filed by Schaerr Jaffe through Oct. 30, 2023, however, leaving out any additional invoices subsequently billed for October work — when more of the legal work with the disciplinary commission was completed. 

Because billing records can be submitted weeks or months after work is logged, invoice records are often delayed.

More details about Bernard case spending

While the expenditures on Rokita’s disciplinary case remain muddy, what has become clearer is the extent of state spending on Rokita’s case against Bernard before the Medical Licensing Board.

Amid the legal saga surrounding the doctor, the state sought a suspension of Bernard’s medical license. Following a 14-hour hearing in May 2023, the licensing board ultimately ruled that Bernard violated state and federal patient privacy laws, but declined to take action affecting her ability to practice.

Billing from Schaerr Jaffe shows more than $105,000 billed in May 2023 alone. Much of that billing is attributed to the Bernard case, according to the new records.

Among the line items in the invoice are more than $13,000 charged by Schaerr Jaffe counsel who were present on the day of the licensing board hearing. 

Tens of thousands of additional state dollars were spent on legal prep performed by the law firm ahead of the hearing, as well as attorney travel to and from Washington, D.C.

Schaerr Jaffe’s contract with the state was first signed between the attorney general’s office and law firm in 2020. At that time, the agreement involved just one federal case. The contract has since been amended six times to include several other matters, including legal defense for Rokita’s law license.