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Friday, May 16, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - Sheila Suess Kennedy takes on Attorney General Greg Zoeller, at length

AG Zoeller's op-eds appear frequently in newspapers throughout Indiana. Here now is attorney and IU SPEA professor Sheila Suess Kennedy's op-ed in the Indianapolis Star today:

Lawyers are ethically obligated to put the interests of their clients first — to put aside personal prejudices and obsessions, and focus upon the client’s needs and objectives.

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. He has intervened 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, a case to which Indiana was not a party.

Last week, a federal court 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.”

As a recovering lawyer, I have a very different view of what constitutes “unprofessional” conduct.

Using your elected position to further a theocratic agenda at the expense of voters who elected you to a secular office is unprofessional.

Volunteering your efforts — and spending our tax dollars — on high-visibility cases that don’t involve Hoosiers is unprofessional.

Taking voluntary positions on behalf of all Indiana residents with which a significant percentage of those residents vehemently disagree is unprofessional.

Denying 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 has no effect on the outcome of the litigation over same-sex marriage is unprofessional.

And yes, cruel.

Sheila Suess Kennedy
Professor, Law and Public Policy
School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 16, 2014 11:06 AM
Posted to Indiana Government