Enquirer News Update - Updated 6:40 p.m.
Commissioners, prosecutor at odds over suing Bengals
By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Two Hamilton County commissioners accused the prosecutor's office today of trying to derail their effort to hire an out-of-town law firm to assess the county's case - if any - against the Bengals.
"The prosecutor's office has failed to represent our interest in this matter," Commissioner Phil Heimlich said. "They have not lived up to their statutory responsibility."
The rift is over Assistant Prosecutor Brian Hurley's April recommendation of a local law firm to investigate the matter. Heimlich and Commissioner Todd Portune want someone with no Cincinnati connections.
Prosecutor Mike Allen is setting up a meeting with the commissioners to discuss their differences, he said this afternoon.
"The time has come for us to try to work the issues out," Allen said. "As far as I'm concerned, all the options are on the table, with one exception. My office has to stay involved."
Heimlich had threatened today to take advantage of a statute that allows commissioners to spend a limited amount of money on outside lawyers without the prosecutor's approval. Normally, the prosecutor's office helps hire and direct legal counsel.
The commissioners asked the prosecutor's office for an opinion last year on whether the county could sue for breach of the Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium lease because of the team's poor record. The opinion was never released to the public, but Portune has taken a different tack in two lawsuits against the Bengals and the National Football League. He alleges that they're illegally operating as a monopoly and committed fraud to get more taxpayer money.
"I do not know whether there are grounds to sue the Bengals ... but to simply let it go would not restore public trust," Heimlich said oday.
As the commissioners neared a decision last week on what outside firm to hire, Commissioner John Dowlin raised the question of whether Portune has a conflict of interest. Assistant Prosecutor Brian Hurley also raised the question in a June letter to commissioners.
Dowlin was absent today.
Portune said his lawsuits shouldn't prevent him from voting on matters related to the Bengals because he filed them on behalf of the county and he does not stand to gain personally. He has asked the Ohio Ethics Commission for an opinion, but that won't come before Sept. 10, ethics commission officials said today.
The county has already spent more than $1 million with law firm Ice Miller of Indianapolis in an attempt to recover some of the $51 million in cost overruns during construction of Paul Brown Stadium.