Even before Donald Trump made it impossible for rational people to remain in the GOP, Indiana had more than its share of deeply problematic Republican officeholders. The office of Attorney General, especially, has often been occupied by ideologues and cranks. (I particularly remember the stories that lawyers shared about “General” Sendak. And more recently, there was Curtis Hill, who hasn’t let his 3-month disbarment for inappropriate “groping” deter him from running for Governor.)
That said, it’s hard to identify an Attorney General more pathetic than the current occupant of that office. Todd Rokita is the “real deal”–if you define “deal” as unethical, monumentally ambitious, self-important and totally un-self-aware.
I’ve posted several times about Rokita, beginning when he was a Congressman accused of abusing his staff and more recently as he has relentlessly attacked the doctor who aborted a ten-year-old rape victim. Rokita accused her of failure to file paperwork, despite the fact that it took only a cursory check to confirm they’d all been properly submitted.
Rokita regularly falls over himself pandering to the Hoosier MAGA crazies who oppose abortion, hate gays and want to outlaw “woke-ness” (which they can’t define.)
Being AG is a full-time job, but when Rokita first took office, he tried to keep (and hide) a lucrative side hustle (details at the link). Now, the Indianapolis Star has discovered that he requires lawyers working for his office to sign wide-ranging non-disclosure agreements.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s employees are signing nondisclosure agreements that could cost them $25,000 if they share personal information about the AG — an unusual policy for state office and one that sets him apart from almost all other attorneys general in the country.
The contract, which IndyStar obtained through a public records request, gives Rokita and his staff the power to decide what information counts as confidential. It covers “personal or private information” about the attorney general, his employees and their families.
State offices here and dozens of other states’ attorney general offices told IndyStar they don’t have their employees sign contracts like this. Rokita’s office stands by it, however, and says its employees “understand this requirement” before they agree to work there.
Rokita doesn’t want his own information to be public, but his privacy concerns don’t extend to anyone else. In a letter he signed onto last month, Rokita opposed a federal proposal to block state officials from accessing information on residents’ reproductive health care services obtained outside the state.
Experts who reviewed Rokita’s NDA said it raised concerns about constraints on free speech and about the public’s right to know about the conduct of public business.
“The (NDA’s) definition of ‘confidential information’ seems designed to shield public officials from scrutiny,” contract law expert Michael Mattioli told IndyStar. “And that’s an essential part of living in a well-functioning democracy.”
Rokita declined to be interviewed. Instead, an office spokesperson sent a statement: “For any professional or executive, signing an NDA is a conventional office practice that has worked well to protect clients and employees alike.”
I haven’t practiced law lately, but in my lawyering days, signing a non-disclosure agreement was unheard of–and when I asked friends who still practice, most confirmed that it remains very unconventional.
According to the Star,
The contract essentially gives Rokita and the AG’s office control over what an employee can say, both during and after employment. The stated rationale is that the employee will be “privy” to information that could be protected by laws and state professional conduct rules.
Typically, when information is protected by professional conduct rules, professionals can be trusted to observe those rules. An NDA isn’t needed. As the Star correctly notes, state and federal laws already protect confidential information received by public employees.
But it doesn’t stop there. It says Rokita and his office ultimately have the power to decide what information fits the definition of “confidential.”
That includes “all material, non-public, information, written, oral, or electronic … that is disclosed or made available to the receiving party, directly or indirectly, through any means of communication or observation …” The category also shields “personal or private information” about Rokita and his staff.
No other Indiana State office requires NDAs, although several deal in as much “sensitive” information as Rokita’s. AGs in most other states haven’t found the practice necessary.
Rokita’s overweening ambition probably plays a role– his appearances on Fox News and a trip he took to the U.S.-Mexico border last year have been widely panned as “headline shopping.” Given Rokita’s appetite for higher office, the sort of disclosures that might emerge–his “side hustle” comes to mind–would be distinctly unhelpful.
One ethics professor found the contract a “reprehensible attempt to intimidate.”
Makes one wonder what Rokita’s so intent on hiding….