Dann tinkers with outside counsel process

John O'Brien Jun. 26, 2007, 2:19pm


COLUMBUS, Ohio - An April study by the American Tort Reform Association showed Ohioans overwhelmingly sought transparency from the Attorney General's office.

Monday, Attorney General Marc Dann said he is giving it to them.

That's when the first-term Democrat unveiled his new process for hiring outside counsel, an undertaking that will overseen by Executive Assistant Attorney General Ben Espy.

"By instituting an accountable, transparent and objective process for the selection of outside legal counsel, we will eliminate a historical source of aggravation in Ohio government and save the taxpayers millions of dollars."

The ATRA's study found that 77 percent of Ohioans wished the office would publicly disclose all contracts with outside lawyers. Several organizations have criticized the practice of appointing private attorneys to special assistant attorneys general because too often those same attorneys who share in a state-earned settlement become campaign contributors.

Dann says an audit he initiated in January revealed a number of problems with previous special counsel, specifically attorneys going over their budget and not keeping the State regularly updated of their activities.

Dann says the new system makes the qualification process more stringent. The selection will begin with an extensive pre-qualification process where existing firms and attorneys are audited, while new firms and attorneys are required to submit a comprehensive questionnaire.

More firms can become involved now, Dann says, since he is posting application forms on his website and sending them to bar associations and legal publications across the state.

"By opening the outside counsel process to a broader range of talent, we will improve the bottom line result for both the taxpayer and the state," Dann said.

Also, an advisory panel consisting of three judges and three lawyers will codify the outside counsel selection process and enter it into Ohio administrative code.

Dann is currently involved in a high-profile case with outside counsel, his suit against paint companies over the cleanup of lead paint. The idea of hitting the companies with a public nuisance is credited to plaintiffs firm Motley Rice.

The validity of a state law preventing Dann from continuing with the suit is currently being considered by the state's Supreme Court, though a decision has come later than expected.

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