Thursday, April 1, 2004

Heimlich, Portune chastise Dowlin

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Two Hamilton County commissioners accused the third - John Dowlin - of sandbagging their attempts to sue the Cincinnati Bengals and the National Football League Wednesday.

"It is very clear to me that you are acting in conjunction with those who want to derail this lawsuit," fellow Republican Phil Heimlich told Dowlin.

Dowlin, in turn, accused Heimlich and Commissioner Todd Portune of ignoring the county prosecutor's office, which is paid by taxpayers to act as the board's legal counsel.

The exchange took place just before commissioners voted 2-1 for a contract for attorneys Stanley Chesley and Robert Furnier. Dowlin voted no. Portune and Heimlich announced plans to hire the lawyers three weeks ago to represent the county in a federal antitrust lawsuit.

The suit alleges pro football used a monopoly to force the county to build the Bengals a stadium. It was first filed by Portune as an individual in 2003, but Groesbeck resident Carrie Davis has since replaced him.

The suit seeks up to $600 million in damages, but Portune and Heimlich say all they really want is to renegotiate the Bengals' lease of Paul Brown Stadium. The stadium opened in 2000, but the $451 million bill is still being paid off via a half-penny sales tax approved by Hamilton County voters in 1996.

Wednesday's deal with Chesley and Furnier gives the attorneys a quarter of any money they win from the Bengals and the NFL within a year, or a third of any money they win after that. They also receive three to four times their hourly rates for any successful efforts to win nonmonetary concessions, such as the team relinquishing some control it has over riverfront development.

"They only get paid if they win," Portune said.

With one exception: The attorneys can also collect triple their standard fees if the commissioners later decide to accept a settlement for no money against Chesley's and Furnier's advice. That's insurance against a future Board of County Commissioners deciding to drop the suit in midstream, Portune said.

Anderson Township Trustee Russ Jackson filed a taxpayer lawsuit Monday challenging the legality of the commissioners hiring the lawyers on a contingency. State law allows commissioners to spend up to Prosecutor Mike Allen's annual salary - about $109,000 - without his approval.

Dowlin voiced similar concerns Wednesday.

"It seems like we are undermining the county prosecutor," he said. "I think he is being ignored. ... I'm led to believe the prosecutor has questions which he seems to think are valid with regard to this contract."


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