Rokita now backing Trump in Mar-a-Lago case

What is the cost to taxpayers?

October 7, 2022 7:00 am

Attorney General Todd Rokita often joins other states in suits and briefs – at what cost to the state? (Photo from Attorney General’s Office)

Every time Attorney General Todd Rokita signs Indiana onto a lawsuit somewhere in the country or files a brief in a case that doesn’t involve Hoosiers, emails and messages clog my inbox.

They are from citizens who want to know what this is costing taxpayers — to play legal games on issues that don’t directly impact Indiana. They see these suits and amicus briefs as political gamesmanship on national issues that Rokita wants to be part of.

The question is legitimate so I decided to look into the cost.

The latest example — and perhaps most flagrant — was Indiana joining Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia to call on a U.S. appeals court to ensure that former President Donald Trump is “afforded necessary legal protections following the Biden administration’s unprecedented nine-hour search of former President Trump’s private residence and its seizure of more than 10,000 documents.”

Rokita was quoted in a press release calling it an “intrusion” and saying the Biden administration has a history of questionable conduct.

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“In the past, I have respected the U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to uphold the law,” he said. “We must not allow the Biden administration to tarnish that proud heritage by turning the U.S. Justice Department into a political shop devoted to settling scores for the current president.”

Never mind that a legal warrant was issued for the search following proper procedures before a judge.

I contacted the Attorney General’s Office and asked what Indiana’s participation in this amicus curiae brief cost Hoosiers. An amicus brief – or friend of the court brief – allows persons or groups that aren’t directly involved in a case to offer additional, relevant information a court might want to consider before making a ruling.

Katlyn Milligan, deputy director of communications, said the Indiana Office of the Attorney General receives more than 100 requests to join multi-state amicus briefs each year.

“All briefs, whether the State joins or not, are read by at least one deputy attorney general. Additionally, we may offer and insert additional work. Sometimes, we help other states write the briefs, and sometimes we write them completely to be shared with other states,” she said.

“In this case, no additional work was needed for Texas’ brief. Holding the federal government to the rule of law is always in the interest of Indiana citizens.”

So, it appears at least in this case the participation was limited and cost very low.


But other times, Rokita’s office is the lead on such efforts and likely spends hours of attorney and staff time preparing such a brief.

For instance, in May Rokita stepped into a South Carolina dispute and led a 16-state coalition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to end a private challenge of a state policy preventing abortion clinics from receiving Medicaid funds. That same month Indiana again was the lead on an amicus brief alongside 14 other states involving common-law nuisance claims by local governments in California against energy companies for contributing to “global climate” change.

Those efforts had to cost money.

To be fair, Rokita is working within an existing budget established by the Indiana General Assembly. His general fund appropriation for the 2022 fiscal year was $21.5 million and he returned $165,028 unused – less than 1%.

Now what is the opportunity cost of the hours spent on the briefs that have no direct impact on Hoosiers or his office? That is an unknown. Could the office be spending more time defending lawsuits right here in Indiana, ensuring convictions, prosecuting doctors, responding to consumer complaints? Probably.

But there aren’t many national headlines in the everyday work of the Attorney General.

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Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.