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.


When Ideology Trumps Competence

The Star reports that Indiana will lose in excess of sixty million dollars in tobacco settlement money, because the state neglected to enforce provisions of the original settlement.

Who is responsible for enforcing the terms of a legal settlement to which a state is party?

While all affected agencies have an obligation to comply with laws and other legal obligations that affect them, those in charge of those agencies necessarily rely upon their lawyers to inform and instruct them. In this case, it is the office of Attorney General. The original settlement was negotiated when Steve Carter was AG, and–unless there is a lot more to this story– the responsibility for monitoring compliance would continue to rest with the office of Attorney General and his staff.

That means that the current AG, Greg Zoeller, is responsible for ensuring compliance with this and other settlements, contracts and agreements to which the state is party. He can discharge that responsibility through subordinates, but–as Harry Truman used to say–the buck stops with him.

Having an office charged with ensuring compliance with prior agreements and settlements is particularly important in government, where agency personnel turn over frequently. (When I was Corporation Counsel for Indianapolis, a roughly analogous position, my office had similar responsibilities for municipal compliance.)

Judging from his eager pursuit of hot-button national issues, Zoeller has ample time and resources at his disposal. He was “lead counsel” for other AGs in the recent Windsor case on same-sex marriage, and he has participated in other “culture war” cases which affected Indiana tangentially, if at all. In addition to these entirely voluntary activities, he has spent time pursuing appeals and cases which his office was highly unlikely to win. (Just a couple of weeks ago, he brought a suit against the Affordable Care Act–aka “Obamacare”–a suit widely derided by local attorneys who have described the theory advanced by Zoeller as “fanciful” and worse.)

So–Zoeller evidently has plenty of time and tax money to volunteer in cases implicating his religious and ideological beliefs. But somehow, he hasn’t found the time or resources to ensure that Indiana was in compliance with its legal obligations under the tobacco settlement.

He didn’t have time to ensure that the state wouldn’t lose sixty million dollars.

Too busy trying to keep those gay people from marrying…..


Give Me a Break!

My friend Bill Groth has been posting to Facebook bits and pieces of the amicus brief that Indiana’s Attorney General has filed in the Supreme Court in the Proposition 8 case.

“The decision below invalidating California’s traditional definition of marriage represents about as radical a departure from deeply ingrained American legal traditions and precedents as one can imagine….The result [of the 9th Circuit’s decision] is disintegration of perhaps the most fundamental and revered cultural institution of American life: marriage as we know it.”Next, he tells us why “traditional” marriage is so grand–only we straights can “beget”:

“A state may rationally confer civil marriage on one man and one woman in order to encourage the couple to stay together for the sake of any children that their sexual union may create. Traditional marriage focuses on protecting children and creating optimal childrearing environments, not on adult relationships. The male-female relationship alone enables the married persons—in the ideal—to beget children who have a natural relationship to both parents and to serve as role models of both sexes for those biological children.”

Zoeller next scolds the 9th Circuit for even daring to suggest Prop 8 was mean-spirited:

“[T]he Ninth Circuit’s unsupported and insulting insinuation [was] that California voters adopted Proposition 8 out of sheer bigotry against homosexuals….”

Oh, no–it couldn’t possibly be mere bigotry! After all, the arguments against same-sex marriage are so logical and powerful. (Actually, they are powerful. Like zombies, they just won’t die.)

Let’s go over this one more time.

“Traditional marriage” has always been between one man and one woman. Bullfeathers. Read that damn bible you keep cherry-picking, and see how many wives those patriarchs had. Look at world history, where plural marriages–polygamy–have been the norm in many countries. For that matter, look around the globe today, where a significant percentage of the world’s population continues to practice polygamy.

Marriage is for procreation. Double bullfeathers. In the past, marriages have been arranged in order to maintain business relationships, cement national treaties, protect property…Furthermore, if we didn’t let non-procreators marry, there would be a lot of lonely old folks and sterile singles. I certainly didn’t marry my current husband in order to procreate–we’d both done that with previous spouses.

Allowing same-sex couples to marry won’t do a single thing to diminish my heterosexual union. It won’t cause divorce rates to skyrocket (Massachusetts, interestingly, has the lowest divorce rate in the nation.) It won’t require elementary school teachers to talk about sexual orientation, or ministers to perform same-sex marriages. It won’t establish affirmative action quotas.

Despite the whining coming from the Right, same-sex marriage won’t undermine Western Civilization as We Know It.

What recognition of same-sex unions will do is acknowledge that gay men and lesbians are citizens, not criminals, and entitled to be treated equally under the law. And that is quite clearly what sticks in the craw of the “defenders of traditional marriage.” Recognition of that increasingly obvious fact is what leads most fair-minded people to the inescapable, albeit “insulting,” conclusion that opponents of same-sex marriage are simply bigots.

What infuriates me even more than these tired and flimsy justifications for homophobia is the news that my tax dollars are being spent by the Indiana Attorney General to file a brief that purports to represent the position of the Hoosier state. I’m pretty confident that Indiana citizens are closely divided on this issue. I’m even more confident that, if asked, a significant majority of us would tell Greg Zoeller to spend his time on the duties statutorily assigned to him, the tasks for which he is being paid.

He can indulge his prejudices on his own time.


Echoes of Republicanism Past…..

This morning’s Star reports that Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has conceded the unconstitutionality of the anti-immigration bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Delph and passed by the General Assembly.

For those of you who do not follow such things, Indiana had passed its own version of Arizona’s mean-spirited and deeply flawed immigration law; a couple of months ago, the Supreme Court found virtually all of the Arizona law unconstitutional. That decision operated to doom most of the Indiana statute as well. And rather than use the Court’s decision as an occasion for grandstanding or ideological posturing, Zoeller did what a good lawyer in that office should do–he agreed that Indiana should follow the law.

The article also quotes an observation by former Marion County GOP Chair Mike Murphy to the effect that much of the current anti-immigration fervor on display is a response to tough economic times; in such times, he points out, people look for someone to blame.

An elected official doing his job properly, and a political operative conceding to the nature of reality might not seem newsworthy, but it is a small, heartening reminder of the GOP to which I used to belong–the party that produced Bill Hudnut , Dick Lugar and John Mutz.

Now we have Mike Delph, Mike Pence and Richard Mourdock. It’s enough to make you cry.