IN Focus: Panelists discuss shutdown drama, AG Hill controversy

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Former Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman was fired by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill the day before Thanksgiving because he refused to sign off on a proposed contract that would have used public money to pay for an attorney to defend Hill against potential federal civil rights violations filed by four women, a source with knowledge of the contracting process told FOX59's Russ McQuaid.

Hill’s office confirms Newman was terminated; and while disputing Newsman's claim as to why he was fired - it refused to elaborate by saying, "it is not appropriate for our office to discuss personnel matters."

According to documents uncovered by FOX59, Hill's office drew up a $100,000 contract with local attorney Kevin Betz of the law firm Betz & Blevins - and it appears Hill intended to ask Gov. Eric Holcomb to sign it. An attached fee schedule to that proposed contract said Betz would bill the state at a rate of $550 an hour for his defense of Hill.

The source said that Newman, the Chief Counsel for the Advisory Division, determined that while the contract proposal to the governor was legal, he felt it was unethical to expect state taxpayers to pay Hill's legal bills and potentially commit the state to paying any settlements if it is determined that Hill’s actions were taken in the course of his job as Attorney General.

However, in a statement to FOX59, Hill contends that Newman "never raised any objections to the Betz & Blevins contract, and in fact, stated there were no problems with said contract."

As for Gov. Holcomb, when asked recently about whether he would object to Hill's legal fees being paid for with taxpayer dollars, he told FOX59: “Contracts that he signs, like any other contracts, will be his decision. Again, that’s got nothing to do with my authority or my review even, he'll have to make decisions on his own case."

Three statehouse staffers and a lawmaker from Northwest Indiana claim Hill touched them inappropriately at a party for lawmakers, staffers and elected officials that was hosted in a bar by lobbyists - hours after the General Assembly adjourned for the session last spring. Despite the adjournment, those familiar with the social event say it is conceivable that taxpayer business could have been a topic of discussion - which might serve as the legal basis for a contention that any alleged wrongdoing by Hill occurred while he was acting within his official capacity as a state office holder.

A Special Prosecutor refused to press any criminal charges against Hill over the groping accusations.

Statehouse staffers Niki Da Silva, Samantha Lozano, Gabrielle McLemore and State Rep. Mara Candeleria Reardon have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and their attorney told FOX59 they may file a federal lawsuit in April.

In its statement to FOX59, Hill’s office noted, “There is no legal action pending against Curtis Hill. The only filings, at this time, have been EEOC charges filed against the State of Indiana. The EEOC does not take actions filed against individuals.”

That statement went on to read, "The State of Indiana is represented by Attorney General Curtis Hill, and in that capacity he has selected the law firm of Betz & Blevins as outside counsel to represent the State of Indiana in these matters. Betz & Blevins has agreed to represent the State of Indiana on a pro-bono basis."

Kevin Betz confirmed to FOX59 that his firm will now represent the state without charge.

"My law firm is providing our legal services on a pro-bono basis, working free of charge on this case," he said in statement.

In that same statement, Betz emphasized that "there is no $100,000 contract between the State of Indiana and my law firm. There is also no payment of $550.00 an hour to Kevin Betz."

However in an email exchange with FOX59, Betz did acknowledge that such a contract proposal was drawn up but added: "I declined it and agreed to do so free of charge."

It should be noted that in addition to being an employment attorney, Betz is also a top political supporter of Hill.

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