Our Attorney General’s “Professionalism”

One of the cardinal rules of the legal profession is to zealously represent your client–to put the interests of that client first. To be an effective and ethical lawyer, you must put aside your personal prejudices and obsessions, and focus upon the job you’ve been hired to do.

Back when I was in practice, we all knew which (few) lawyers took their clients’ money and proceeded to posture to the media, or file unnecessary pleadings, or otherwise use the lawyer-client relationship for self-aggrandizement, personal gain or ideological vendettas.

Which brings me to Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.

The Attorney General is elected to protect the legal interests of Hoosiers. Zoeller, however, has consistently used the position to advance his personal religious beliefs, intervening in national high-profile, culture war cases having the most tenuous connection (if any) to Indiana. He has been especially eager to volunteer in cases involving gay rights; he spent enormous time and energy–and taxpayer resources–opposing same-sex marriage in the Supreme Court’s Windsor case.

Last week, a federal court in Indiana required Indiana to recognize the out-of-state marriage of Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney.  Niki is battling a particularly aggressive cancer, and has been told that she is terminal. The couple has two children, ages 1 and 3. Niki wants to be recognized as married in her home state while she is still alive; she wants the comfort of knowing that her family will receive the legal protections that all other married families in Indiana receive.

Zoeller immediately announced his intention to appeal. As Lambda Legal noted,

No other attorney general in the country has chosen to appeal after a court has protected the marriage of a same-sex couple on a temporary basis as a lawsuit moves forward because one of the partners is terminally ill. For example, the Ohio AG declined to appeal a court’s temporary order protecting the marriage of a man fighting Lou Gehrig’s disease as his lawsuit challenging the State’s marriage ban moved forward, even as the Ohio AG fought to uphold the ban.

When a Lambda attorney characterized the decision to appeal as “a display of cruelty,” Zoeller’s spokesperson accused the organization of an “unprofessional approach in their utterances toward opposing counsel, one not consistent with standards of civility and respect that Hoosiers and Hoosier lawyers uphold in our legal system.”

Excuse me?

Let me tell you what is “unprofessional.”

What’s “unprofessional” is using your elected position to further a theocratic agenda at the expense of voters who elected you to a secular office.

What’s “unprofessional” is volunteering your efforts–and spending our tax dollars–on cases that don’t involve Hoosiers.

What’s “unprofessional” is taking positions on behalf of all Indiana citizens with which a significant percentage of those citizens vehemently disagree.

What’s “unprofessional”–and utterly despicable–is homophobia so ingrained and obsessive that you would deny a dying woman the comfort of knowing that her children will be protected, by appealing a temporary order that applies only to her family. 

And what is really “unprofessional” is having the chutzpah to complain when someone points out your own lack of humanity and respect for the limits of the position you hold.


  1. Indiana used the same biased views regarding interracial marriages they use today to prevent same-sex marriages. My interracial friends who were married in Chicago in the 1960’s wanted to be married at home with family and friends when Indiana finally abolished that law but were told they would be committing bigomy. What legal stance (legal, NOT Biblical) can be taken against same-sex marriage to prevent this particular union before the one partner dies? I’m sure there is a loophole to cover this situation to uphold the pseudo Bible-thumping faction. Will custody of the chidren become a factor?

    I am anxious to see how the attorney, probably legal aid appointed, represents the uncle/niece duo who mugged me and three other elderly women a few weeks ago, defends their actions. He has been identified by two of us, they were caught with the last victim’s belongings and using her credit card. They are blood related, living as husband and wife and have a child, both have criminal histories. I pointed out to the deputy prosecutor (when he responded to my E-mail by coming to my home to pick up information regarding their use of my credit card which had been omitted from the charges) that I fully expected to see continuances begin in earnest in hopes that we old victims die off. They can use the same tactic in the above mentioned case as one partner has been diagnosed as terminal. Justice is missing from the justice system in this state; the Bisard case is a prime example along with the trio who blew up an entire neighborhood, killing two innocent people. We are still waiting for that trial – or trials – to begain. Where can justice be found for any of these victims?

  2. Greg Zoeller, or any other elected official, wouldn’t think of using taxpayer money to further his own ideology, if the voters began acting like they care. Without the pressure of an engaged electorate, we can look forward to much more of this political theater.

  3. Right on target, Sheila. The Attorney General’s approach to a range of issues is downright frightening.

  4. He should have been paying more attention to the job he was paying hundreds of thousand of dollars to his former boss, Steve Carter, to manage the tobacco settlement funds. Indiana is set to lose more than $65 million because it failed to do what it was supposed to do under the terms of the settlement.

  5. I have no problem with the AG defending the laws of the State of Indiana. That’s his job. I do not want the Indiana AG picking and choosing which laws he defends. That would give him a veto over those laws. Now whether he should be obligated to take an appeal, that’s another story. But at the very least he needs to defend Indiana’s law at the trial level or step aside for someone who will, which the law allows for.

    Zoeller though is a hypocrite. He says he has to defend Indiana’s marriage law, but then he refused to defend Indiana’s immigration and expungement laws. While I didn’t agree with the former, I again don’t think the AG should be able to pick and choose which law he defends. That’s a horrible precedent, one that gives the AG a veto more powerful than any governor anywhere.

  6. Unless people follow what this guy does and they know something about boundaries and professional behavior, they are likely to vote for him again. He, after all, is a “crusader”. The only way he will get fired is the same reason some tenured professors can be fired: they are caught in bed with a dead boy or a live girl.

  7. Same-sex marriage has become legal in Arkansas, OK? It’s the law, OK? But wait…not so fast! About half-a-dozen counties in Arkansas (mostly along or near the Mississippi River) are defying the new state law, since their counties were not part of the original lawsuit filed to make it legal. It’s anything they can find to stop same-sex marriage. The battle goes on.

  8. Mr. Zoeller needs to understand what the separation of church and state means. What crime have these lesbian women committed? None, that I can see. If Mr. Zoeller really wants to do something beneficial for the citizens of Indiana then perhaps he needs to focus on people who are a danger to public safety, ie men who are violent towards women and children, people who are violent felons, people who are busy selling heroin on the street which has exacerbated gun violence in Indianapolis.

    Really Mr. Zoeller quite wasting my tax dollars. Quit spending your time on people who do not endanger us.

    Robin Riebsomer RN CAS LMHC

  9. No only is he wasting our money, as Gary mentioned, he’s letting $65 million go down the drain. We can’t afford an AG like that. But he is not just a zealot. He, like some others who have been mentioned, is a fanatic. In rigidly pursuing his own goals, he has forgotten his reason to be AG. As Paul has pointed out, oddly enough he sure looks like a hypocrite. If he wants to be an independent crusading attorney engaging in that sort of stuff, he can do it, but not on my dime.

  10. TY Sheila for adding another voice to the actions of our AG. In my correspondence with his office he continues this arrogant attitude. He does not have to account for his finances on his crusades as it is “in the budget”. True enough- but then the office ignores other issues. His office has hired staff “in the budget” though a bill to the INLegis requesting the additional personnel in DC seemingly disappeared. Ive blogged on his office tactics and sadly there is no where to go with concerns- he is the new committee chair for violations.

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