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Published: Wednesday, 9/27/2006

Ohio race propelled by issue of ID theft

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Greg Hartmann, Republican candidate for secretary of state, yesterday accused his opponent, a former judge, of talking tough on identify theft but failing to follow through with the gavel.

Jennifer Brunner has reminded voters at every opportunity that identify theft occurred on Mr. Hartmann's watch as Hamilton County clerk of courts when Social Security numbers were available on court records accessible through his office's Internet Web site.

The issue hit closer to home earlier this year when it was discovered that some secured loan documents available via Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's Web site also contained Social Security numbers.

"Her rhetoric doesn't match her record," said Mr. Hartmann. "She's got a troubling record and disturbing record in the area of identify theft. We have 10 more cases where she gave no jail time to people who stole identities in Ohio."

The Republican attorney had previously cited cases in which defendants were convicted of felony forgery charges, most involving credit card or check forgery.

"Greg's very vulnerable on this issue," Ms. Brunner said. "There were multiple defendants and federal indictments that clearly showed that this was allowed to happen. His Web site had so many documents with private information that thieves had access to. He was sued civilly on this."

Mr. Hartmann said he knew court records on his office's Web site had a private information problem when he inherited the site from his predecessor in 2003. But while he said he was working to resolve the problem, the information remained available.

Federal authorities ultimately informed Mr. Hartmann that the site was used by an identity theft ring to garner Social Security numbers.

He has since cut off Internet access to the documents. This experience, he has said, would better arm him to deal with a similar problem at the secretary of state's office, which continues to remove Social Security numbers while maintaining access to those documents.

The secretary of state's job has been held by a Republican for nearly 16 years. Ms. Brunner was deputy director under Sherrod Brown, the last Democrat to hold the office.

Ms. Brunner, who was a Franklin County Common Pleas judge for five years, said most of the cases Mr. Hartmann cited were the result of plea agreements involving local prosecutors.

"Under felony 4 and felony 5 [charges], the presumption is in favor of probation," she said. "You can't send them to prison unless you make certain findings based on a myriad of factors."

But both Mr. Hartmann and Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis, a former common pleas court judge and Hartmann supporter, said in a conference call with reporters that the final decision belongs to the judge.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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