Cordray dismisses lead paint lawsuit

John O'Brien Feb. 9, 2009, 1:43pm

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) - Ohio's new attorney general is giving up on the lead paint lawsuit filed by its old one.

Attorney General Richard Cordray voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit filed by disgraced former attorney general Marc Dann, who resigned from the office last year following a sex scandal.

Dann filed suit against 10 former makers of lead paint in April 2007, a year before leaving office. Those companies, he alleged, created a public nuisance by manufacturing it, even though none did after it was outlawed in 1978.

"I understand and strongly agree that exposure to lead paint is a very real problem," said Cordray, a former state treasurer who was elected attorney general in November. "But I also know that not every problem can be solved by a lawsuit."

The City of Columbus similarly dismissed its case in August, a month after a historic Rhode Island Supreme Court decision that ruled three paint companies were not responsible for the costs of cleaning up lead paint, which has been linked to development problems in children.

The Rhode Island case started in 1999, when plaintiffs firm Motley Rice convinced former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse to bring the first state-backed case over the issue.

The first trial resulted in a mistrial, the second (filed by current attorney general Patrick Lynch) in a 2006 verdict against three companies. It was the longest civil trial in state history.

After the mistrial and while Whitehouse prepared to leave office in 2002, Jack McConnell, of the firm's Providence office, contributed $1,000 to Lynch's election efforts.

In Lynch's next campaign, McConnell gave him $2,000. In between, in Lynch's non-election year of 2004, McConnell still gave him $2,000.

The firm had thought of using a public nuisance claim against the companies as a way around certain defenses that could have stonewalled a products liability claim, like the tolled statute of limitations.

On July 1, the justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court unanimously rejected that claim. Similar rulings have occurred in Missouri, Wisconsin and New Jersey.

Dann resigned in May after he admitted to an affair while releasing a 57-page report substantiating allegations of sexual harassment against Dann aide and friend Anthony Gutierrez.

Gutierrez and the attorney general's communications director, Leo Jennings III, were fired for trying to coax an assistant attorney general to lie to investigators, while Dann's chief of staff, Edgar Simpson, was forced to resign.

A civil lawsuit brought by two women was recently settled for nearly $500,000.

A spokesperson for the paint companies offered no comment, but Sherwin-Williams attorney Chuck Moellenberg said, "Extraordinary progress has been made in addressing lead risks to children from all sources. Enforcement of current Ohio law requiring property owners to keep their properties in a safe condition and free of hazards will finish the job," when Columbus dismissed its suit.

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