Owens calls for 'open and transparent' AG's office

Chris Rizo Oct. 9, 2008, 1:24pm

Robert Owens (I)

Richard Cordray (D)

Mike Crites (R)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline)-Robert Owens, an unaffiliated candidate for Ohio attorney general, on Thursday criticized Democrats and Republicans for scandals that he said have shaken voters' confidence in state government.

Owens said when former Democratic Attorney General Marc Dann resigned in May amid a sexual harassment scandal, he saw an opportunity to run and change the way the attorney general's office does business.

"When Marc Dann resigned we saw a real opportunity to get involved in the campaign where an independent had a real chance at victory," Owens told Legal Newsline.

"Both parties have now been embroiled in major scandal in a very short period of time," noting the Dann scandal and the so-called Coingate scandal, which involved former GOP Gov. Bob Taft and rocked the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, have been black eyes to the two major parties.

Democrats and Republicans who have served as Ohio attorney general have put their respective parties ahead of their constituents, he said.

"I've got the energy, the passion, the love of the law to actually represent the people of Ohio for a change," Owens said.

Owens, a 35-year-old private practice attorney and former prosecutor, is running against Democratic state Treasurer Richard Cordray, 49, and Republican Mike Crities, 60, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio from 1986 to 1993.

They are vying to complete the two years remaining on Dann's first term. Gov. Ted Strickland replaced Dann with Nancy Rogers, dean of the Ohio State University College of Law.

A recent poll showed Cordray leading the race with 42 support among registered voters. Crites had 34 percent, while Owens trailed with 12 percent support in the SurveyUSA poll conducted late last month.

As for how he would administer the AG's office, which has some 1,300 employees, 12 offices and 47 departments, Owens said he would provide "principled leadership."

Owens said he will "roll up his sleeves," act as a "servant-leader" and help the office do right by Ohioans.

"Dann was running the place essentially like a fraternity house," he said. "There is rampant corruption in this office that wasn't just unique to the Dann administration. It permeated many different administrations -- both Republican and Democrat -- for the last 20 years."

Owens said one of his top priorities if elected would be to bar no-bid contracts in the office. As for hiring outside counsel, he said the state's current policy encourages cronyism and pay-to-play politics.

"Outside counsel hiring must be subject to an open competitive bid process," he said, noting that AGs traditionally have hired their campaign contributors to represent the state on contingency basis.

"Not only are these guys selling us out, they are selling us out at bargain basement prices," Owens said.

Owens said he would also eliminate the slush fund that is fed when the attorney general collects back taxes or gets judgments against companies.

Instead of the money going into the state's general fund, a "significant share" of the proceeds remain in the AG's office "for these guys to use however they want; no questions asked or answered," Owens said.

"We're going to end that process just like we're going to end the no-bid contracts process," he said. "To make sure it's real and lasting change, we're going to institute real transparency in this office."

Owens said he is the only candidate to sign the Buckeye Institute's Pledge for Open and Transparent Government.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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