The cost to Hoosier taxpayers to massage Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s easily bruised ego continues to grow.
Marilyn Odendahl of The Indiana Citizen continued her deft and illuminating reporting on the attorney general’s penchant for starting stupid and expensive fights.
Odendahl tracked the taxpayer funds the attorney general’s office spent hiring the conservative Washington, D.C. legal firm Schaerr Jaffe to clean up Rokita’s messes. She found that the attorney general amended a contract with the firm authorizing expenditures of up to $1.1 million — and that Schaerr Jaffe collected $180,504.94 from the middle of November 2022 through April 30.
Again, all taxpayer funds.
This tax-subsidized windfall for the D.C. law firm coincides with the start of Rokita’s campaign to punish Indiana Dr. Caitlin Bernard for embarrassing him before a national audience.
Last year, Bernard performed an abortion for a 10-year-old Ohio girl who had been raped. When Bernard was at a reproductive rights rally, she mentioned that to a colleague. A reporter for The Indianapolis Star overheard the conversation and asked Bernard to confirm the information.
The doctor did so, and the Star published a story.
Rokita, eager to court rightwing national media attention, sprinted to Fox News. There, he denounced Bernard in terms so outrageous that even Fox — which is not devoted to either truth or accuracy — backed away from Rokita’s claims quickly.
The fact that almost everything he said about Bernard wasn’t true didn’t deter Rokita. He accused her of breaking Indiana abortion disclosure laws and said his office was launching an investigation of her.
(Normally, the accusations of crime breaking come after the investigation, but our attorney general never has been one to observe constraints of law.)
His comments prompted several leading lights of the state’s legal community — including a retired federal judge and a Republican former member of the U.S. House of Representatives — to call for the Indiana Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Commission to sanction him. The commission just charged Rokita with multiple violations of confidentiality requirements that will force him to mount an expensive defense of his conduct.
Schaerr Jaffe is representing Rokita there, too — once again, with the taxpayers covering the tab.
Along the way, Bernard sued Rokita.
When it became clear he was likely to lose that suit in court, the attorney general maneuvered to have the Indiana Medical Licensing Board — whose members are political appointees and some of whom had made generous campaign contributions to Rokita — take up the matter. That prompted the judge in Bernard’s suit to kick the case on procedural grounds, but not before ruling that the attorney general himself had violated the confidentiality laws.
Technically, Rokita won the case, but he didn’t like that the judge had rapped his knuckles. He launched an abortive attempt to overturn his victory to keep his pride from being hurt.
And who did the attorney general hire to help him feel better about himself by spending still more taxpayer dollars?
You guessed it — Schaerr Jaffe.
The medical licensing board reprimanded Bernard and fined her $3,000 but found she had complied with all reporting requirements. The board’s decision earned scorn across the nation from legal and medical ethics experts.
At the end of last month, Bernard said she wouldn’t appeal the board’s decision. Her statement announcing her decision said, in effect, that she’d already wasted too much time playing Rokita’s political games.
Rokita crowed that he had “won.”
His statement explained why he has fought his entire career to stay on the public payroll. Only a career politician would consider it a victory to spend more than $100,000 — again, of taxpayer funds — to collect $3,000.
Not satisfied with the spendthrift record he’s already compiled, Rokita now has filed suit against Bernard’s employer, IU Health and IU Healthcare Associates, on largely speculative grounds.
Once again, Schaerr Jaffe, courtesy of the Indiana taxpayers, will do the attorney general’s fighting for him.
For now, the D.C. law firm can’t stick us for more than $1.1 million, although that amount could be increased if Rokita wants to spend more.
For $1.1 million, Indiana could put 20 more police officers on the street or 20 more teachers in the classroom for a year.
Instead, we’re spending it to help Todd Rokita bully a doctor who helped a little girl.
Good way to spend our money, don’t you think?
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students, where this commentary originally appeared. The opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the views of Franklin College. Send comments to [email protected].