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INDIANAPOLIS – In gearing up for the start of his second term, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said his office in 2012 focused on protecting Hoo siers of various ages – children, young adults, homeowners and retirees – and his goal in 2013 is to expand and broaden that focus to combat prescription drug abuse in Indiana.
“During the past four years, the office of the attorney general has gone the extra mile to cultivate working relationships with our law enforcement colleagues at the local, state and federal level, to enhance our legal service to our clients in the legislative branch and executive branch, and to network with nonprofits that serve the public since we serve the same Hoosier constituents. This focus on working with all sides, all levels and all stakeholders has allowed us to better understand problems Hoosiers face and help facilitate legislative changes to address them,” Zoeller said.
The office of the attorney general enforces the state’s consumer-protection and telephone-privacy laws and also is the lawyer for state government. The attorney general represents the prosecution in criminal appeals, investigates abuse and neglect of patients in facilities and fraud by Medicaid providers, and returns millions of dollars a year in unclaimed property to Hoosiers. Having served as chief deputy to former Attorney General Steve Carter, Zoeller was elected Indiana attorney general in 2008 and re-elected in No vember 2012. His second term started Monday. Zoeller recently looked back on the year just ended and ahead to goals for next year:
Focus on protecting children, families and crime victims
In the 2012 session of the legislature, Zoeller urged law-makers to pass a new human trafficking law in advance of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis so prosecutors would have more effective legal tools to use against criminal rings that traffic in prostitution. Zoeller was an advocate for the Indiana Lifeline Law, a new statute that encourages young people to seek medical attention for emergencies caused by underage drinking. Zoeller took steps to bring the legal representation of the Department of Child Services in appellate court back to the attorney general’s of-fice to ensure consistency and appropriate legal management of the agency’s appellate cases. So that the Indiana Sex Offender Registry will continue to be a useful informational resource parents can use to protect their children, Zoeller’s office also is working with its clients – the legislature, Department of Correction, prosecutors and sheriffs – on possible updates to the registry statute in light of recent court rulings limiting the law’s application.
For school corporations that want to create school re source officer positions to help manage school discipline, men tor youth and provide safe and effective learning environments, Zoeller’s office and legislators are exploring ways such positions might be supported and funded in the legislature to broaden the use of resource officers where schools seek them.
When criminals appeal convictions or sentences in Indiana appellate courts or in habeas petitions in federal court, the attorney general’s office represents the prosecution, and has a success rate on appeal of approximately 92 percent.
Zoeller chairs the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force whose medical and law enforcement experts are studying the epidemic problems of abuse and diversion of addictive prescription pain-killers. Zoeller and the task force plan to recommend legislation to combat unsafe prescribing practices that encourage addiction by pain clinics known as “pill mills.” He recently filed two disciplinary actions against the medical licenses of doctors in Fort Wayne and Jeffersonville who operated such clinics.
Because abuse of synthetic drugs such as bath salts and spice continues to be a problem despite a new law prohibiting them, Zoeller has worked with partners in civil and criminal law enforcement on educational and compliance initiatives. He is also recommending the legislature further revise Indiana law to provide more tools to address “lookalike” synthetic drugs.
Indiana has some of the nation’s toughest telephone privacy laws and Zoeller has aggressively defended the laws from robo-calling solicitor companies who have filed repeated lawsuits to overturn them. In light of 21,236 telephone privacy com-plaints the attorney general’s Office has received so far in 2012, Zoeller is working on proposals to extend the protection against auto-dialed robo-calls to cell phone users, prohibit the practice of caller-ID spoofing and provide incentives for whistleblowers to expose illegal conduct by telephone privacy violators.
Mindful of recession-related foreclosures in Indiana, the attorney general’s office participated in the National Mortgage Foreclosure Settlement to resolve nationwide problems with “robo-signing” of mortgage documents by loan servicers. Of the $145 million Indiana is to receive in the settlement, $100 million will be used in directed assistance to foreclosed borrowers. Another $28 million at the Legislature’s direction goes to energy assistance for at-risk homeowners, and the balance goes to the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division and Homeowner Protection Unit efforts.
By law, the attorney general defends Indiana statutes from lawsuits challenging their constitutionality and defends the state’s sovereignty – the ability of Indiana to pass and enact its own laws and not have them overridden by the federal government. Zoeller’s office is de fending laws the legislature passed regarding school vouchers, right-to-work requirements and use of state funds by medical providers that also offer abortion services. Zoeller’s office participated in the 26-state legal challenge to the federal health care law. Although the U.S. Supreme Court did not overturn the individual mandate, the states achieved a partial victory when the court ruled it is optional for states to decide to expand their Medicaid programs and it gave them the flexibility to decide how much to expand them by. That released the states from the financial threat of the federal government cutting off their federal Medicaid funds.
The attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit had a record year in collections of settlements, restitution, penalties and recoveries of overpayments, collecting $52,339,350 in 2012. The Revenue Division files lawsuits against local government officials who, according to audits, have misappropriated public funds and has collected approximately $2.4 million to reimburse the public treasury since January 2009.