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Thursday, January 11, 2007

A. G. Marc Dann: Asks ???s About Outside Counselors

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Attorney General Marc Dann has been in office for less than a week and he's already started auditing the use of "outside counsel," the practice of hiring private law firms and lawyers to represent state government in legal matters, often at prices of $200 to $250 an hour. It's a nice source of business and money for the legal profession in Ohio, and lawyers have often been reliable suppliers of campaign contributions that never, never, never are connected to receiving state business.

Dann said there are more than 160 firms handling nearly 700 matters. He said he wants to know more about them, including the curriculum vitae of every attorney, paralegal and employee who bills work to the state.

Under Ohio law, none of that legal work had to be bid out competitively. Agencies get to pick their special counsel and determine the price, provided the attorney general agreed and the Controlling Board voted the money.

Dann said he wants to "initiate a process that is free of even the perception of favoritism in the way we award special counsel contracts from this point forward."

He's made a good start. It's probably causing more chills than a winter breeze. Members of the bar could be wondering if the patronage money taps are going to dry up. But why not go a step farther? Dann should consider moving more legal work in-house. Why not beef up the attorney general's staff of lawyers? At the federal level, hardly any work is done by lawyers who are not employees of the U.S. Department of Justice or federal agencies.

In Ohio, I know Democratic lawyers who were special counsel for Lee Fisher when he was a.g in the 1990s. They made contributions. To keep the work, they made donations to his successor, Betty Montgomery, a Republican. And when she left, they wrote checks to the campaign fund of Jim Petro. It was S.O.P.

Then, there were out-of-state lawyers who wound up getting state business. Some were supporters of former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who wound up handling election law matters. One of them represented Terry Schiavo's family in the lawsuit to keep the Florida woman alive.

Dann, a Democrat, said Thursday he's started a ''thorough and comprehensive review" of outside law firms that have state contracts. His statement is available here.

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