Saturday, May 15, 2004

Ohio court blasted for soliciting flight

Utility flew Rehnquist to Columbus

The Associated Press

TOLEDO - Watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action criticized the Ohio Supreme Court for asking a utility company to fly U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist to Columbus for the dedication of the state's new court building.

The Ohio Supreme Court plans to reimburse American Electric Power about $3,800 for the flight. Rehnquist will speak today at the dedication ceremony.

Security issues and Rehnquist's knee problem made a commercial flight impractical, said Ohio Supreme Court spokesman Chris Davey.

"We are hoping to save a little money because AEP has agreed to do it at cost," he said. "This is not a favor."

AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said the company was "accommodating a request from the Ohio Supreme Court."

Catherine Turcer, a campaign reform activist for Ohio Citizen Action, said flying a U.S. Supreme Court justice on a corporate jet at another court's request doesn't look good.

"Clearly, this is a favor," Turcer said.

"All businesses, including AEP, have things they need or want from the courts."

She noted that AEP and other utilities are defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.

The case could work its way up the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Rehnquist had nothing to do with the flight arrangements, which are made by the inviting organization.

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