Governor Names New Chair Of Utility Regulating Panel

Mar 19, 2021

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is naming a former Franklin County judge to be the next chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Jenifer French will chair the PUCO, though she lacks experience with utilities.

But DeWine told the City Club of Cleveland he thinks having no background with the industry is a good thing right now, and that she has the needed skills.

“A very smart judge, someone who has a reputation of studying the facts, taking very complex set of facts, digging through that to come to a just resolution," DeWine said.

French, a Republican, lost re-election to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court in November.

French replaces Sam Randazzo, who resigned last year after the FBI searched his home, looking into a $4 million-dollar payment from First Energy.

Randazzo has not been charged, but in his resignation letter, Randazzo wrote he didn't want "to be a distraction from the work from the PUCO and felt that this is the best thing for him to do," DeWine said at the time.

DeWine rejected the first batch of four finalists selected by the Public Utilities Nominating Council. But he chose to one of them, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French, to lead the Ohio Department of Insurance.

Advocates for consumer groups had raised concerns about the possibility of Judi French being named to lead the PUCO because of contributions she received from FirstEnergy, which is thought to be the unnamed utility at the center of the $60 million federal bribery case involving Republican former House Speaker Larry Householder.

But Jenifer French's lack of experience with utilities has them concerned.

Ohio Consumers' Counsel Bruce Weston issued a statement that read in part: “It is disappointing that once again a consumer representative was not appointed to the PUCO to balance the utility backgrounds of other commissioners. I do wish the new PUCO commissioner well in her service to the public."

And the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance, which has been campaigning for a repeal of House Bill 6, said in a statement: "We are disappointed that Governor DeWine rejected those with consumer advocacy experience earlier in this process, and we call Ms. French to demonstrate a dedication to increasing equity, fairness, and access to services at the community level at a time when corruption has been winning the day in Ohio."