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DeWine Taps Former Franklin County Judge As New PUCO Chair

Former Franklin County judge Jenifer French
University of Akron
Former Franklin County judge Jenifer French

Gov. Mike DeWine has picked a former Franklin County judge to become the next chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

DeWine on Friday selected Jenifer French to succeed Sam Randazzo, who resigned in November days after FBI agents searched his Columbus townhome, and after Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. revealed company top executives had paid him $4.3 million to end a consulting contract.

The company in regulatory filings indicated the payment to Randazzo was for future favors in his role as a regulator.  Before he stepped down, Randazzo was involved in an audit of FirstEnergy over its alleged role in a $61 million bribery scheme involving former House Speaker Larry Householder and the state's nuclear bailout law.

Randazzo, a longtime energy lobbyist, was appointed by DeWine to lead the state's top utility regulation board in February 2019. In contrast, French worked as a civil litigator and a suburban Columbus council member before taking the bench on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in 2015.

"She has no background in the industry, period, which I think in this unique point in time is a real asset," DeWine said Friday at the City Club of Cleveland.

French, a Republican, lost her bid for reelection in November.

"Talking to people who have gone before her, people who know her, a very smart judge," DeWine said. "Someone who has a reputation for studying the facts, taking very complex set of facts, digging through that to come to a just resolution."

French emerged from the second round of PUCO chair finalists after DeWine rejected the first batch. He did choose one suggested candidate, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French, to lead the Ohio Department of Insurance.

French's nomination is subject to state Senate confirmation. DeWine reiterated his belief that lawmakers will replace HB6, the subject of the federal bribery investigation.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.