Ohio AG candidates sparring over selection of outside counsel

Legal News Line Sep. 19, 2008, 2:30pm




COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) -- The Republican candidate for Ohio attorney general says he wants to eliminate the perception that the AG's office is controlled by a "pay to play" system when it comes to the selection of outside counsel. However, in announcing how his administration would handle the hiring of outside lawyers should he be elected this November, Michael Crites stopped short of accusing any one AG specifically. In announcing his proposal, Crites said he would establish guidelines for the hiring of special counsel for cases outside the expertise of attorneys in the Ohio AG's office. Outside counsel also are hired when the AG's office has a conflict of interest in a legal matter. "The time is ripe to overhaul the system of appointing special counsel, making it more transparent and thus accountable to the public," Crites said. He added that his proposal for revamping that system satisfies recommendations contained in the AG Advisory Committee report issued earlier this month. That report advised future Ohio AGs to establish a "fair and transparent" system for selecting outside counsel. Crites's proposal seeks to create a competitive bid system that is fully documented and available to public scrutiny, he said. He said his plan de-emphasized hourly rates, focusing instead on a total project cost by requiring bidding firms to provide a "not to exceed" total cost in their proposals. "It's no secret that the ability to dole out special counsel has been used as a political fundraising tool for years," Crites said. The Republican isn't the only one with ideas on revamping how the AG's office should select and hire outside counsel. Independent candidate Robert Owens, an attorney from Delaware, Ohio, asked Crites rhetorically, "What took so long?" In fact, Owens made the elimination of no-bid contracts a centerpiece of his campaign in an effort to restore public trust and integrity to the AG's office. He is also the only Ohio AG candidate who has signed the Buckeye Institute's "Pledge for Transparency and Openness in Government." Richard Cordray, the Democratic candidate for AG and Ohio's current treasurer, dismissed Crites's plan. According to Cordray spokeswoman Leesa Brown, if elected, Cordray will establish an independent audit office responsible for the selection of special counsel. She noted he implemented a similar department upon his election as Ohio treasurer two years ago, a decision that saved Ohio taxpayers more than $1.2 million within a year of his taking office. "A strong and reputable record in this case is a better predictor of future performance than a proposal based on assumptions that the candidates cannot know to be accurate until they are in office and have an opportunity to size up a situation," Brown said. Whoever wins the race for Ohio AG this November will complete the two years remaining on the term of Marc Dann, the former Ohio AG who resigned in May after admitting to an extramarital affair, among other things. A week after Dann resigned, Nancy H. Rogers was appointed to fill the post until someone is elected in November. Rogers was dean of the Michael E. Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University when she became AG. She has said she has no interest in running for the job.

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