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Published: Saturday, 11/3/2001

Judge orders ex-state agency chief to devise court computer network

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The Ohio taxpayers' loss will be the courts' gain as a judge yesterday ordered former human services director Arnold Tompkins to repay his debt to society by designing a computer system connecting the state's courts.

Mr. Tompkins, director under former Gov. George Voinovich, accepted the community service of up to 300 hours rather than spend six months in jail for steering multimillion-dollar computer contracts to two technology giants that later retained him as a consultant at $10,000 a month each.

Before imposing the surprise sentence, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge John P. Bessey rejected Mr. Tompkins' suggestion that his violations were technical in nature.

“I believe it was a blatant violation,” Judge Bessey said.

Mr. Tompkins pleaded guilty to two first-degree misdemeanors, unlawful interest in a public contract, and an ethics violation. Each count could have led to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The case involves state welfare reform-related contracts awarded without competitive bid between May, 1996, and August, 1998, to Chicago-based Accenture Inc. and Virginia-based American Management Services, Inc.

Mr. Tompkins faces no probation time as part of his sentence. He has admitted he had a personal interest in the multiple contracts and that he failed to wait the required year after leaving office in October, 1989, before lobbying his old department to renew those contracts.

“You've got to be kidding,” Senate Minority Leader Leigh Herington (D., Ravenna) said of the sentence. “This is a man who spent millions in taxpayer money on a computer system that didn't work.”

A pet project of the Ohio Supreme Court, the enormous task of producing a system that ultimately would allow varying computer systems in 454 courts in 88 counties to communicate with each other has stalled.

“We have not had the funds and won't have the funds to employ somebody to do what I understand Mr. Tompkins is going to do. ..,” Chief Justice Thomas Moyer said. “Right now we're at zero.”

Judge Bessey chairs the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Technology and the Courts.

“I will take the challenge from the judge,” said Mr. Tompkins, adding that he is up to the task despite having relied on consultants in the past for heavy-lifting on such projects.

Donna Givens, who doubled as a consultant for the former Ohio Department of Human Services and Accenture, recently entered into a probationary program that required her to make restitution for overbilling the state.

Accenture agreed to a $5.3 million settlement with the state for its role in designing Ohioworks.com.



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