Attorney general explains duties

On April 6, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller spoke to political science instructor Larry Williamson’s state and local government class.

It’s not every day that a high-ranking government official speaks to one of Butler’s political science classes, so Williamson said the attorney general’s visit was “a welcome, but complete surprise.”

He said he had been receiving correspondence from the attorney general’s office, which had offered to be available to the class.

“I decided that would be good when we came to courts and the judicial system,” Williamson said.

He said he never, anticipated that the attorney general himself would visit in person, though.

After introducing himself to the class, Zoeller launched into a description of what his office does.

“The role of the attorney general is essentially managing the state law firm,” he said.

Zoeller has worked for former Sen. Dan Quayle, serving as assistant to Quayle  during his vice presidency after the 1988 Bush-Quayle victory.

He has served as Indiana’s elected attorney general since 2009, prior to which he worked in the office for eight years.

“The attorney general’s office is this large law firm inside of state government,” Zoeller said. “I have 148 attorneys, seven divisions, with a very diverse and complex system of cases.”

The attorney general’s office doesn’t just concern itself with consumer affairs, Zoeller said, but also represents state officials, agencies and bureaucracy.

“We serve as the attorney that takes cases to court on behalf of the agencies and defends when sued,” he said.

Zoeller said one of the most interesting aspects of the job is its relationship to the judicial system: the office represents all prosecutors in appeals cases.

“It’s the most fascinating role to defend an entire system of justice, and what it’s made me recognize is that we too often take it for granted that justice just happens,” Zoeller said.

Senior recording industry studies major Kyle Snyder said it was an honor to have a prominent member of the state government take time out of his busy day to spend with the class.

“In a time when nothing seems to come out of the government but bickering and partisanship, Zoeller made clear what mature representatives do on a day-to-day basis to make our state function,” Snyder said.

When asked about partisanship, Zoeller, a Republican, stressed that he has always placed a priority on building relationships with his clients, regardless of political persuasion.

“I’m making sure my office is as apolitical as possible,” Zoeller said. “You have to maintain the trust of your clients and try to develop some personal relationships.”

Being a part of the attorney general’s office requires a high level of cooperation, which may even extend internationally. Zoeller is currently working with the attorney general of Mexico to reform the Mexican criminal justice system to help combat the problem of drug cartels.

“It makes me realize that we shouldn’t take our criminal justice system for granted,” Zoeller said.

After the Attorney General spoke, the students were able to ask questions on a range of topics relating to his office—from consumer affairs to specific laws to political or policy matters.

Williamson said Zoeller  was very complimentary of the level of questions asked, comparing them to those he usually gets at law schools.

“I thought his impressions were good,” Williamson said. “I was very pleased with the response the students gave and the questions that were asked.”

Williamson said having a state or local government official visit the class helps add depth to the subject matter and makes the course seem less abstract to students.

“It puts a real-time, real-world, human face on the topic being discussed,” Williamson said. “[It] helps students relate in a meaningful way and helps learning occur.”