COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio taxpayers are paying the bill for the legal defense of three ex-state employees sued by “Joe the Plumber,” who claims they illegally accessed his personal information leading to last fall's presidential election.
Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, the Springfield Township man who became a public figure after questioning President Obama, then a candidate, about his economic policies, filed a civil rights lawsuit against three state employees in March in U.S. District Court in Columbus. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Helen Jones-Kelley, Assistant Director Fred Williams, and Deputy Director of Child Support Douglas Thompson were all named in the suit.
Mr. Wurzelbacher said the employees accessed his personal information to retaliate against him for speaking against Mr. Obama.
Ms. Jones-Kelley and Mr. Williams resigned. Mr. Thompson lost his job after Inspector General Tom Charles found that confidential personal information was improperly accessed.
Attorney General Richard Cordray, a Democrat, said he is obligated to defend the employees because the lawsuit claims the illegal actions were done in the course of their work for the state.
Mr. Cordray said state representation would “minimize the taxpayer exposure” because, after the suit, the ex-employees could go to the court of claims to recover costs made for private representation, which is generally expensive.
The attorney general is sometimes not obligated to provide representation, as when an employee was “acting manifestly outside the scope of his official employment or official responsibilities, with malicious purpose, in bad faith or in a wanton or reckless manner.”
Mr. Cordray said the law prohibits him from discussing some information used to decide whether to represent the employees.
The two Republicans running to replace Mr. Cordray opposed his decision. “These people violated the privacy of an Ohio citizen and they did it, it would appear, to advance a partisan political campaign, and I think taxpayers will be shocked to find that their tax dollars are going to defend them,” former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine said. Delaware County Prosecutor David Yost said: “It's an outrageous use of taxpayer money to defend the invasion of a citizen's privacy.”