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Published: Friday, 9/19/2008

Crites: No pay to play in AG office

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS Saying he wants to eliminate a perception of pay to play in the Ohio attorney general s office, Republican candidate Mike Crites yesterday proposed a more stringent process for awarding lucrative contracts to outside law firms.

The former U.S. attorney stopped short of saying he believes special counsel contracts have been awarded in the past based on how much they contributed to campaigns.

All I know is there is clearly a perception of that, he said. I don t have to tell you that perception is reality I don t think there s any question when you look at what s happened in this state in the last three to four years that Ohioans are tired, embarrassed, and upset about the parade of political incompetence and corruption that appears to exist.

The forced resignation in May of former Democratic attorney general Marc Dann in the wake of an office sexual harassment scandal has created an opportunity for Republicans to regain some power lost in 2006.

On Nov. 4, Mr. Crites will face well-financed Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray for the right to complete the two years left in Mr. Dann s four-year term. Gov. Ted Strickland tapped Nancy Rogers, on leave as dean of Ohio State University s law school, to fill the void in the meantime.

Mr. Crites has called for a greater role for the state agency that seeks the services of an outside lawyer, either because permanent staff lacks certain expertise or because of a conflict of interest with the attorney general s office.

The agency and attorney general would recommend law firms to submit proposals.

The agency would grade the proposals based on cost and other factors and an internal committee within the attorney general s office would then review the agency s recommendations. The final decision would belong to the attorney general.

My plan will force firms to compete on the basis of price, he said. While the office has had a standard state rate of $125 per hour for most work, in reality what happens is firms request and receive exemptions from this rate.

Mr. Crites criticized his opponent for not putting his own plan on the table.

What [Mr. Cordray] has is a record of how he handled similar situations when he took over an office that had a troubled past and had not been cleaned up for a while, said Cordray spokesman Leesa Brown.

This sounds very familiar to the steps Rich Cordray took upon becoming state treasurer, she said. He reviewed all the contracts very carefully and then came up with a new [requests-for-proposal] process for state banks, because depository contracts come up every two years.

During his successful 2006 campaign, Mr. Dann also focused on special counsel contracts and proposed his own RFP process. Mr. Crites said he couldn t say whether Dann s proposals would have been an improvement on the system inherited from his Republican predecessors Jim Petro and Betty Montgomery.

We don t know, he said. He went ahead and held press conferences that trumpeted the importance of the RFP system, but he rarely used it in the short time that he was attorney general.

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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