An example of redacted legal invoices for services provided to Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office.
An example of redacted legal invoices for services provided to Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office.
It seemed like a simple question: how many taxpayer dollars are being spent to defend Attorney General Todd Rokita’s law license?

The office has paid $400,000 to an outside law firm but it is unclear how much of that went to the disciplinary matter.

I first sent an email in February 2023 inquiring about the representation hired on behalf of the state’s leading attorney and I still don’t have the answer. The initial inquiry wasn’t a formal records request but an attempt to handle a question quickly. Since then, it has escalated to a public records debate before the Indiana Public Access Counselor.

The Indiana Public Access Counselor last week issued a ruling that took a slight jab at the Indiana Comptroller and Attorney General’s Office but didn’t rule in our favor. The question is whether legal invoices by an outside attorney representing Rokita were redacted too much.

“All descriptions of work performed have been redacted. This does not allow the public to know whether it got the benefit of the bargain from the service provider hired by the state,” the ruling said. “As stated previously, attorney invoices may have more redactions than other types of service providers, nonetheless, the public is entitled to know that its money is going to good use. Pinpoint, specific redactions are much more effective at accomplishing that goal.”

Where it started

Let me tell you what this fight has been like.

The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission began investigating Rokita in early 2023. It was Marilyn Odendahl of the Indiana Citizen who first reported on Feb. 8, 2023, that the state was paying Washington, D.C., law firm Schaerr Jaffe to defend Rokita in that matter.

Former Attorney General Curtis Hill paid for his own legal defense when he was charged with misconduct. But, to be fair, that incident was at a bar and outside his official duties. Rokita was being investigated for comments he made as part of his office’s work.

After the Citizen’s report I sent an email asking generally about the legal representation. It initially got no response from the Attorney General’s Office. A follow-up said the office would get back to me. It never did.

At some point, separately, both Odendahl and I asked the Indiana Comptroller for invoices related to payments to Schaerr Jaffe because the AG’s office had not been helpful.

The payments are under a contract first signed between the Attorney General’s office and Schaerr Jaffe in 2020 involving one federal case. Since then, it has been amended six times to include multiple other matters. The contract is also being used to pay to defend Rokita’s law license.

When the invoices came from the Comptroller, we were hoping to piece together what taxpayer money was being spent on what legal matter.

But the invoices only list the original federal court case, which concluded in September 2023and there is no way to identify what costs are going to which issue, matter or case.

The Comptroller was efficient — responding with documents in about a week — but redacted nearly everything from the invoices, meaning I couldn’t tell anything about the work being done.

The complaint

Odendahl and I decided to file a public access complaint. We understand redactions are allowed — and even proper — to protect attorney-client privilege. But when they redact virtually every word, the invoices become useless.

Simultaneously, Odendahl sought invoices directly from Rokita’s office in case their redactions were different. The Comptroller said in its response to our complaint that it did solicit input from the Attorney General’s Office in making the redactions.

That request to the Attorney General’s Office was sent Oct. 30, by the way. They still have not provided the documents — almost five months later.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said the amount of redaction is “unusually high” but without the benefit of seeing the unredacted copy he can’t say definitively that a violation occurred.

“It is my recommendation, however, that the OAG revisit these materials and potentially redact the invoices with a much lighter touch so that the documentation is objectively readable,” he said.

Notably, a second disciplinary investigation is underway and the office has also hired a another law firm for “claims and disciplinary complaints which may arise against State of Indiana employees and state officials in the scope of their employment.”

This could all easily be avoided if Rokita’s office would simply answer the question. How much in state taxpayer dollars have been spent so far on the his disciplinary defense?

© Indiana Capital Chronicle, 2024 The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.