Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Attorney General Wants Former PUCO Chair’s Assets Re-Frozen

Close-up image of a $100 bill with a heavy metal chain cris-crossed over top of it. The chain has a gold-colored padlock on it.

The request for a hold on the former PUCO chair's property and assets stems from a 2020 civil case filed under the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act.

Close-up image of a $100 bill with a heavy metal chain cris-crossed over top of it. The chain has a gold-colored padlock on it.

The request for a hold on the former PUCO chair's property and assets stems from a 2020 civil case filed under the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act.

After an appellate court removed a hold on the assets of the former chair of the state agency that regulates utilities, the Ohio attorney general asks that the Supreme Court of Ohio reimpose the hold.

The request arises from a civil case filed by the attorney general in 2020 against FirstEnergy Corp. and others under the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act. FirstEnergy was named in the lawsuit based on its alleged role in a public corruption scheme to pass House Bill 6. The 2019 legislation, now partially repealed, was a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout of two nuclear plants operated by a FirstEnergy subsidiary.

The attorney general maintains that FirstEnergy paid Samuel Randazzo, then chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), $4.3 million to influence PUCO decisions to benefit FirstEnergy and to help shape legislation favorable to the company.

The state lawsuit followed the launch of a federal court case in early 2020 regarding the corruption scheme and alleging a criminal conspiracy among elected officials, lobbyists, and FirstEnergy. Two men have been convicted on federal charges, two others entered a plea agreement, and FirstEnergy entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. Randazzo has not been charged in the federal criminal case.

As the federal case began unfolding in 2020, the FBI raided one of Randazzo’s homes. Randazzo resigned from the PUCO days later. The attorney general asserts that since the raid, Randazzo has gifted a house worth $500,000 to his son and sold other residences in Columbus, Akron, and Naples worth nearly $5 million.

The attorney general amended the state lawsuit in 2021, adding Randazzo and a company he owns, Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio, as defendants. The attorney general also requested orders for “prejudgment attachment” to hold Randazzo’s property and assets while the civil lawsuit is ongoing.

State Request to Hold Assets Made Ex Parte
The attorney general made the motion without notifying Randazzo. Under state law, the court could approve the ex parte request if there was probable cause for the motion and the state would suffer “irreparable injury” if the order was delayed until the Randazzo was given the opportunity for a hearing. The attorney general warned that the money from the sales were in a brokerage account and could be wire-transferred anywhere in the world.

The Franklin County Common Pleas Court approved the orders to hold Randazzo’s property and assets. When he became aware of the orders, Randazzo contested them in court. The attorney general informed the court that Randazzo also had transferred a total of $3 million to attorneys in California and Ohio. The court held a hearing and refused to vacate the orders.

Randazzo appealed to the Tenth District Court of Appeals, which overturned the orders. The Tenth District concluded that the state wouldn’t suffer irreparable injury if the orders to hold Randazzo’s assets were delayed until Randazzo could be a part of a hearing.

The attorney general appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which will hear the case next week during oral arguments.

State Argues There Was a ‘Present Danger’ That Former Official Was Moving Money
The attorney general’s brief contends that the Tenth District “ignores all signs of the defendant positioning himself to immediately move property beyond the State’s reach.” The attorney general notes that after Randazzo was sufficiently identified as part of a massive corruption scheme, he sold real estate worth nearly $5 million, and he gifted a $500,000 house to his son. State law supports the ex parte orders because there was a “present danger that the property will be immediately disposed of, concealed, or placed beyond the jurisdiction of the court,” the attorney general argues.

The attorney general asserts that transfers of $3 million to attorneys only bolstered the evidence supporting the motion to hold Randazzo’s assets. The movement of money and sales of assets make clear that Randazzo was concealing funds, and those steps made the attachment orders necessary, the attorney general concludes.

Former PUCO Chair Contests Garnishment and Hearing Without Notification
Randazzo notes that the property sales were executed months before the attorney general named him in the state lawsuit. Randazzo asks how he could be hiding assets from the state before he knew he was a defendant in the case. Because of the court orders, Randazzo says he lost access to his IRA account and that the funds in the Sustainability Funding Alliance checking account were seized and transferred to the clerk of courts. He questions the irreparable injury to the state that would have resulted if he had been notified and given an opportunity to be heard before his property and assets were taken.

He also contends that the attorney general couldn’t report at the court hearing that money was transferred to attorneys because it wasn’t a hearing for submitting evidence. Randazzo notes that the court orders allowed $8 million of his money to be garnished. He argues the amount was arbitrary because it wasn’t connected to injuries caused to person or property.

Watch Oral Arguments Online
The Supreme Court will hear four cases on June 27 and four more, including State v. FirstEnergy Corp., Randazzo, et al., on June 28. Oral arguments begin each day at 9 a.m. The arguments will be streamed live online at and broadcast live on the Ohio Channel, where they are archived.

Detailed case previews from the Office of Public Information are available by clicking on each case name.

Tuesday, June 27
Self-Defense Claim
In 2019, a 71-year-old Cincinnati area taxi driver picked up a heavily intoxicated man who lived in a rural town in neighboring Clermont County. The two men disputed the fare amount and the argument escalated inside a convenience store. After being shoved against a glass door in the store, the driver returned to his taxi in the store’s lot. When the passenger approached him, the driver shot the man in the neck and fled. In State v. Palmer, the driver contests his prison sentence for felonious assault, arguing the trial court misinterpreted the new state law on proving self-defense when it improperly refused to allow the jury to consider his self-defense claim.

Juvenile Bindover
In June 2020, two 16-year-old boys stole a car. When police spotted the car, the driver attempted to flee by driving across a field. He crashed in a ravine. When police got to the car, the  driver was dead. He had been shot. A gun with the passenger’s DNA was under the passenger’s seat. The passenger was charged in juvenile court with five criminal counts, including involuntary manslaughter. The juvenile court refused the prosecution’s request to transfer the case to adult court, finding the state failed to prove the gun under the seat shot the bullet that killed the driver. In In re E.S., the Court will consider whether the prosecution presented enough circumstantial evidence to transfer the case to adult court.

Duty to Retreat
During an argument, a man pulled a gun on the mother of his children. She contacted her father, who came to the Cleveland apartment where she lived. After hearing what happened, her father drew a gun on the man, and they shot at each other. The woman’s father died. The man in State v. Hurt argues he acted in self-defense and that the new “stand your ground” law removing the duty to retreat for self-defense claims applies in his case because his trial took place after the new law’s effective date. The Cuyahoga County prosecutor disagrees, contending that the man’s offenses took place before the effective date and the law isn’t retroactive.

Restitution Requested
In 2013, a woman hired a Columbus attorney to represent her in a divorce. As part of the settlement, the lawyer was required to draft an order to transfer $19,427 from the ex-husband’s 401(k) account to his client. The attorney took nine years to complete the order, a process that an expert testified should have taken between 60 to 90 days. The Board of Professional Conduct has recommended that the attorney be suspended from the practice of law for 18 months, with 12 months stayed. In Columbus Bar Association v. Bulson, the Court will consider a request by a bar association that the attorney pay between $7,917 and $18,204 in restitution to his client based on the claim that the client lost out on thousands of dollars that could have been earned through investing her divorce settlement money in a retirement plan.

Wednesday, June 28
Attorney Discipline
In Disciplinary Counsel v. Bennett, the professional conduct board found a former federal prosecutor sexually harassed a law student intern during a 16-month timeframe. The board noted that the attorney discussed sexual topics with the intern, asked for nude photos, and pursued her on social media. A six-month suspension from the practice of law was recommended. The attorney acknowledges his wrongdoing but believes similar disciplinary cases support a stay of the suspension. The disciplinary counsel responds that the attorney abused his power over the intern’s future career and an actual timeout is reasonable.

Contested Suspension
A former Hamilton County juvenile judge was convicted in 2014 of a felony and served a jail sentence. She contests a proposed indefinite suspension from the practice of law based on the conviction of having an unlawful interest in a public contract. The former judge challenges the proposed suspension, arguing she didn’t violate the Code of Judicial Conduct, and notes that she is still appealing her criminal conviction. In Disciplinary Counsel v. Hunter, the Court will consider the Board of Professional Conduct’s suspension recommendation.

Vehicle Inventory Search
A sheriff’s deputy stopped a driver in Hamilton County and cited him for improper display of a temporary license and driving without a valid driver’s license. Because the driver couldn’t legally drive, the deputy called for a tow and conducted an inventory search of the vehicle. The deputy found a loaded handgun in a door panel. The Hamilton County prosecutor maintains in State v. Toran that the stop was legal, the search was conducted according to the sheriff’s department policy, the search wasn’t a pretext to look for incriminating evidence, and the evidence found should be allowed in court. The driver counters that his truck was parked legally and the vehicle owner, his mother, came to the location and offered to move the truck. He concludes that the inventory search was illegal, and the evidence found should be excluded.