Judge rules Rokita violated law, but denies abortion care provider's request to halt investigation
A county judge ruled Friday that Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita violated state law, breaking confidentiality in his office’s investigation of Dr. Caitlin Bernard.
But the judge also denied Bernard’s request to put a halt to Rokita’s investigation.
Records show that Bernard filed the proper paperwork after providing an abortion to a 10-year-old Ohio girl and cooperated with authorities investigating her rape.
But Attorney General Todd Rokita went on cable television, accused Bernard of breaking the law without any evidence and threatened to revoke her medical license.
Since then, Rokita’s office launched an investigation of Bernard based, he said, on consumer complaints.
Bernard sued Rokita, seeking to stop his investigation from continuing and block his office from accessing medical records of her patient, which they had requested.
Marion County Judge Heather Welch ruled that Rokita broke the law by publicly discussing the investigation before his office filed an official complaint with the Indiana Medical Licensing Board.
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That official complaint was filed Wednesday. And Welch denied Bernard’s request to halt the investigation because the issue is now in the board’s hands.
Welch ruled that there's no point to stopping Rokita from further discussing the investigation in public, since he's now allowed to do so after the complaint was filed with the licensing board.
Bernard had also argued that the investigation should be halted because the consumer complaints were baseless.
But Welch rejected that claim. She wrote that state law allows the state's Consumer Protection Division (part of the Attorney General's office) to fully investigate a complaint before determining whether it has merit.
In a statement, Rokita's office called Friday's ruling a major victory.
"But for the doctor’s violation of her patient’s privacy by going to the news media, this story would have never been publicized," Rokita's office said.
Judge Welch's ruling rejeced that premise.
"There is nowhere in the statute that stages the attorney general’s obligation to keep the investigation confidential is relieved when the subject of the investigation makes it public," Welch said.
Additionally, testimony in court revealed that Bernard did not "[go] to the news media" about the case. A reporter overheard her discussing it in broad terms and then questioned Bernard about it.
Rokita's office also argued the investigation is not about abortion. It said at issue is whether Bernard reported the rape to authorities as required by law.
Evidence presented in court revealed that the doctor's team was in contact with Ohio authorities before she'd even seen the patient. And she made a report to the Indiana Health Department and Indiana Department of Child Services within three days of the abortion.
State law says child abuse must be reported immediately to either local law enforcement or DCS. It doesn't define immediate.
In a statement, Bernard's attorney Kathleen DeLaney said the judge's ruling found that Rokita's unlawful actions caused irreparable harm to Bernard's reputation and professional standing.
"We are confident in the record and testimony that we have already developed and look forward to presenting Dr. Bernard’s evidence to the Medical Licensing Board," DeLaney said.
There is no timetable for the licensing board's work.
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