Even as Ohio’s largest law firm, with hundreds of employees and a nearly $50 million budget, the state’s Attorney General Office can’t do it all.
Sometimes, it must retain high-powered outside attorneys to represent the state in complex areas of the law, such as securities fraud, which can include deceptive business practices, stock manipulation, embezzlement and insider trading.
Contracts awarded to firms that specialize in such matters can be worth millions of dollars if the state sues and those cases advance in the courts.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is seeking his second term this year, has said that outside attorneys and law firms are picked based on their qualifications, and that the selection process is transparent.
But an Associated Press review found there isn’t much of a paper trail to show that, or dispel the idea that some firms receive contracts after making sizeable campaign contributions to the Republican Party.
Such donations can circumvent limits that are capped at $1,000 if made to the attorney general.
DeWine’s office once used a selection committee to screen outside firms, and committee members were guided in the process by judging and scoring sheets to measure applicants’ experience, track record and professionalism.
But that vetting method is apparently no longer used, and winning firms are now determined through interviews and discussions with DeWine’s top staffers, who then make recommendations verbally to him.
A recent AP public records request resulted in no judges’ notes, scoring sheets, emails or documentation to show recommendations made to DeWine. But the AP determined that one Dayton-based law firm, rejected as special counsel in 2011, was hired the next year after it had made a $25,000 donation to the GOP. More recently, a New York law firm was retained after making a $50,000 donation to the party.
While the issue comes during an election year in which DeWine is being challenged by Democrat Dave Pepper, a Cincinnati attorney, it still deserves attention.
DeWine should put the matter to rest by doing what he said he would do after he was first elected, that is make picking outside counsel more transparent and document it.
In addition, he should show proof that there is no correlation between those firms who get hired and the sizeable contributions that could indirectly aid his re-election campaign.
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