Ohio taxpayers footing bill for defense of “Joe the Plumber” attackers

Last fall, during the peak of the presidential campaign, three Ohio state employees used their positions to target, Samuel Wurzelbacher, aka “Joe the Plumber” by searching state records in the hope of finding material with which to smear him. Ohio’s independent Office of the Inspector General investigated the actions of the three employees. It concluded that there was “no legitimate agency function or purpose” and “no reasonable basis” to authorize the searches for confidential information about him. Simply put, these three partisan hacks violated state law.
After Wurzelbacher sued the three, Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, a Democrat, decided to use taxpayer money to pay for the defense. This seems improper on its face, and former Senator Mike DeWine, who is running against Condray for Attorney General, makes a strong case that it violates the applicable Ohio rules.
Here is DeWine’s analysis, which appeared in the Dayton Daily News:

In October 2008, Toledo resident Samuel Wurzelbacher gained notoriety as “Joe the Plumber” for challenging then-presidential candidate Barack Obama on his tax plan. Shortly thereafter, three high-level State of Ohio political appointees conspired to cause state databases to be used to dig up confidential information about Wurzelbacher.
Last year, Ohio’s independent Office of the Inspector General initiated an investigation into the search of state records regarding Wurzelbacher. Their report concluded that there was “no legitimate agency function or purpose” and “no reasonable basis” to authorize the searches for confidential information about him.
Three state employees used state time and equipment to target a private citizen and invade his privacy. Their actions were in violation of state law and for the purpose of advancing a partisan political campaign.
Joe the Plumber is now suing the employees. In our legal system, when private employees are sued, they are responsible for hiring and paying for their own attorneys. The only exception is when the lawsuit is against a public employee who was properly acting within the scope of his public duties. In that case, the attorney general represents the employee.
When state employees are sued, Ohio Statute, Revised Code 109.362, requires the attorney general to review the facts before providing taxpayer-funded representation. The attorney general may not represent an employee who acts recklessly, maliciously or in bad faith outside the scope of his employment.
Despite this, Cordray still chose to use our tax money to defend these wrong-doers, two of whom resigned in disgrace, while the third had his job “revoked.” Cordray’s decision to provide legal representation in the face of Ohio law may provide political cover to the Strickland administration, which appointed the wrong-doers, but it is no way to run the attorney general’s office.
Not only does such a decision show a blatant disregard for taxpayer dollars, but it is also an affront to every Ohio citizen who expects state government to protect their privacy rights.
This is not the only case that calls into question Cordray’s judgment when it comes to matters that may embarrass his political allies. After disgraced ex-Attorney General Marc Dann left the office in shambles, two of the young women who socialized with Dann and his buddies threatened legal action against the state. Any blame for how they were treated rightfully belonged with Dann and other people who were involved with the women.
But, here too, Cordray decided that taxpayers were responsible. Without first going through the financial approval channels required by law, and after meeting in secret, Cordray agreed to pay nearly $500,000 in taxpayer dollars to the women.
With the case thus settled, there would be no public testimony from them that might reveal other aspects of the growing scandal. They were effectively silenced.
Ohioans deserve an attorney general who will make decisions based on the law, not politics. Sadly, Cordray has failed to live up to that obligation. At a time when every precious state tax dollar must be preserved for the vital services of government, hundreds of thousands have already been squandered by Cordray’s missteps. Taxpayers must speak out and demand change.

Condray’s weak defense of his decision can be found here.


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