Court rules: State can freeze assets of former PUCO chairman

By: 
Press Staff Writer

The state has the authority to freeze the assets of a former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last week.
Sam Randazzo, the former utility regulator, allegedly accepted $4.3 million from FirstEnergy Corp. During a federal public corruption case, FirstEnergy essentially admitted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office that it made a payment to influence Randazzo. The utility was pushing for passage of House Bill 6 in the state legislature.
The Supreme Court’s ruling unanimously reversed a Tenth District Court of Appeals decision that had found a trial court erred when it agreed to restrict Randazzo’s access to his bank and brokerage accounts.
The Supreme Court reinstated a Franklin County Common Pleas Court order to prevent Randazzo from moving money out of the accounts.
Writing for the Court, Justice R. Patrick DeWine explained the Tenth District appellate court took issue with the way the trial court granted the Ohio attorney general’s request to freeze Randazzo’s assets before notifying Randazzo.
After Randazzo was granted a hearing to oppose the state’s actions, the trial court upheld the “attachment orders” the attorney general sought. The Supreme Court decision states that because Randazzo obtained a hearing after his assets were frozen, Randazzo could not object to the trial judge’s earlier decision to freeze his assets without a hearing.
Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy and Justices Michael Donnelly, Melody Stewart, and Jennifer Brunner joined the opinion. Second District Court of Appeals Judge Ronald Lewis, sitting for Justice Joseph T. Deters, also joined the opinion.
While agreeing with the decision to freeze Randazzo’s assets, Justice Patrick Fischer issued a concurring opinion to voice his concern with the Ohio Attorney General’s office having incorrectly followed the law in notifying the banks and brokerage accounts that the state had won a judgment against Randazzo.
The attorney general’s office had blamed the clerk of courts for forcing the state to use an incorrect form to notify the financial institutions. Justice Fischer wrote the attorney general could have acted to ensure the office properly followed the law.
Attorney General Dave Yost praised last week’s ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court.
“We are pleased that the court recognized that Mr. Randazzo cannot spend down his bribe proceeds and render himself judgment-proof," Yost said.
Yost filed a lawsuit in 2021 to freeze Randazzo's assets and preserve the future sale of property, after Randazzo transferred a $500,000 property to a family member and sold off four others.
Yost's civil case is ongoing.

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