The Indiana Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Commission has charged state Attorney General Todd Rokita with three counts of professional misconduct.
All three counts are justified. In his response, Rokita grudgingly acknowledges that he could have committed two of the violations but denies the third.
But they don’t speak to Rokita’s greatest offense: He has abused the power of his office to try to destroy another human being.
That the human being in question, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, is a citizen of this state, someone whose rights the attorney general is supposed to protect—not assault—only adds to his transgression. That the attorney general is using taxpayer funds to finance his private political vendetta—thus making all of us complicit in his mean-spirited shabbiness—compounds the perfidiousness.
Perhaps the disciplinary commission does not have a mechanism at its disposal to weigh a betrayal of public trust that immense.
If so, that is a tragedy.
This is not to say that the charges the disciplinary commission brought are not significant. They are.
The commission said Rokita violated rules of conduct in three ways.
When he sprinted to appear before the Fox News cameras to pillory Dr. Bernard for providing an abortion for a 10-year-old Ohio girl who had been raped, he made public statements that could prejudice legal proceedings. He also made public statements aimed at harassing a person.
The commission added that Rokita violated confidentiality laws by talking about the investigation while it was ongoing, which might prejudice the investigation and any legal proceedings.
Rokita’s formal response is odd.
He acknowledges the truth of the first two disciplinary charges but offers a child’s excuse for wrongdoing. He says he was justified in ignoring his responsibilities because Bernard already had disclosed information about the abortion.
In other words, she did it first.
This is curious in at least two ways.
The first is that Rokita’s legal team has set things up so that his own arguments can be used against him. Bernard was reprimanded and fined $3,000 by the Indiana Medical Licensing Board for revealing far less information than Rokita did to a much smaller audience.
Bernard’s punishment came at the attorney general’s strident insistence. He called for her to be prevented from practicing medicine again.
If Bernard, who revealed only that information commonly found in medical journals, had committed an offense deserving, according to Rokita, the loss of her medical license, doesn’t his own argument also call for him to face severe punishment?
The second thing that makes Rokita’s defense strange is that it suggests that, if one person breaks the law, others are entitled to do the same.
Having our attorney general contend, in effect, that because John Dillinger robbed banks, the rest of us, including Rokita, are entitled to knock them over, too, is plain weird.
If Rokita’s legal defense is peculiar, his public statement issued just after the complaint was filed is downright bizarre.
It has the tone of truculent, combative self-pity so common among the acolytes of former President Donald Trump. Like Trump, Rokita loves to boast he is eager to fight—but, also like Trump, he whines whenever someone takes him at his word.
In the statement, he pouts that “radicals in workplaces, schools, media and government” have come after him. He complains, “These same radicals have fostered an environment that ‘cancels’ non-compliant citizens through intimidation as well as tactics that can weaponize our respected institutions.”
If his actions weren’t so morally repugnant, it would be tempting to dismiss Rokita’s words as gibberish.
The fact is that no one came after him. No one tried to “cancel” him.
He is the one who tried to demolish Caitlin Bernard’s career and reputation, not the other way around. His defiance of standards of decency, duty and law prompted others—including members of his own political party—to say this is not the way a grown-up, much less a person holding an important office, should conduct himself.
A lawyer—any lawyer—is supposed to revere the law, to see it as a pillar propping up a just, civilized society.
That means that he or she honors the law even when others do not.
Todd Rokita does not operate that way. If the law stands in the way of his ambitions, the law must give way.
Let us hope that the Indiana Supreme Court does not see things the way he does.
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. The views expressed are those of the author only and should not be attributed to Franklin College. Send comments to [email protected].