INDIANAPOLIS (CN) - Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita now faces charges for public comments he made about Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who spoke to the media after a 10-year-old girl traveled from Ohio to Indiana to obtain an abortion.
The charges were filed Monday by the Indiana Supreme Court's disciplinary commission after their investigation into Rokita's public comments about Bernard.
Bernard became a public figure after speaking with a reporter about a 10-year-old rape victim who crossed states lines from Ohio to obtain an abortion procedure in Indiana.
As the case vaulted into the national spotlight, it also resulted in a flurry of public comments and legal filings including Rokita levying an administrative action against Bernard, who in turn sued Rokita for claiming unfair investigations into her actions.
These legal cases resulted in a Bernard receiving a $3,000 fine and letter of reprimand from the Indiana Medical Licensing Board, but the board left her medical license in good standing.
The board found that Bernard had broken privacy rules by disclosing too much information about the patient to the reporter but cleared her of charges that she failed to report the patient's abuse to the proper Indiana authorities.
Two of the three charges Rokita faces stem from an appearance on July 13, 2022, on a Fox News program hosted by Jesse Watters in which Rokita refers to Bernard as an "abortion activist acting as a doctor - with a history of failure to report."
The disciplinary commission says these comments violate attorney professional conduct rules because they happened prior to filing a complaint with the state's medical licensing board.
Additionally, the commission claims the comments resulted in harm to Bernard's reputation and professional image and caused logistical issues for the licensing board.
The third charge comes from other statements made by Rokita regarding Bernard, including a press release and comments made in an interview with a newspaper where he expressed that an investigation into the doctor was "ongoing."
In a statement released Monday, Rokita said he has filed his response to the charges, and that complaint made against him "stemmed from grievances that mainly referenced media reports."
"We will continue defending Indiana's laws and ensure that licensed medical professionals and other health care providers are held accountable when they violate their patients' privacy and fail to obtain consent," Rokita said.
In the filed response Rokita denies the confidentiality violations made by the charges and claims that he did not cause any burden on the court system or for the medical licensing board.
Regarding the activist comments he made about Bernard, Rokita concedes that they could be improper, but that proof would have to be shown.
"Respondent admits that use of the phrase "abortion activist acting as a doctor - with a history of failure to report" on July 13, 2022, could reasonably be considered to have violated Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6(a); nevertheless, should a hearing be necessary, respondent demands strict proof thereof. Any remaining allegations in this paragraph are denied," Rokita says in his response.
The matter ultimately now rests with the Indiana Supreme Court and could result in a "trial-like" proceeding with the final decision on the charges coming directly from the justices.
The charges comes just days after Rokita filed a lawsuit against IU Health, Bernard's employer, complaining of her actions in speaking with the press about the young abortion patient.
IU Health spoke out against the medical board when it fined Bernard, saying it believed she was compliant with privacy laws.
Kathleen DeLaney, Bernard's legal counsel, released a statement declining to comment on the charges against Rokita.
"Our legal team had no involvement in the recent charges filed and therefore cannot comment on them. We will watch how the disciplinary commission process proceeds and let the complaint speak for itself," said DeLaney.
Source: Courthouse News Service