State panel: Ex-utility lawyer broke ethics law

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The Indiana State Ethics Commission ruled Thursday that a former top lawyer at the state utility agency broke state law by participating in matters involving Duke Energy Corp. while talking with company officials about a job.

The ethics panel fined Scott Storms $12,120 and barred him from future state employment.

The state inspector general's office said Storms applied for the job in April 2010, four months before he disclosed his interest to state officials and screened himself from Duke cases before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Among those cases was a nearly $3 billion coal-gasification plant Duke is building near Edwardsport in southwestern Indiana.

Storms repeatedly denied during an ethics panel hearing last month that he had done anything wrong when he accepted a job at Duke while working as general counsel and chief administrative law judge at the utility commission. Storms said he followed state law, did not mislead his supervisors or the ethics panel and did not compromise his duties.

His attorney, Thomas Farlow, said Thursday that Storms might appeal the ruling.

Farlow said Storms remained unemployed six months after Duke fired him from his job as a regulatory attorney.

"He is a bright, experienced lawyer who was sought after because of his expertise in utility law," Farlow said. "But we maintain he did nothing wrong."

The ethics case against Storms depended in large part on when he applied for the Duke job and began negotiating an offer.

State investigators pointed to a cover letter, resume and application dated April 20, 2010, in which Storms wrote "to express interest" in the position of senior counsel with Duke Energy Indiana and said he was "uniquely suited" for the job because of his extensive experience in utility regulation.

But Storms had said he didn't formally apply until August and immediately removed himself from Duke matters.

Inspector General Dave Thomas had said that Storms contacted Duke's hiring attorney at least 10 times to talk about the job from March through August.

The ethics commission decided that Storms violated the law by participating in the Duke Edwardsport case "when he had knowledge that he had a financial interest, arising from his employment or prospective employment at Duke for which negotiations had begun."

It further stated the Duke, by negotiating with Storms, had a financial interest in the outcome of the Edwardsport case.

Storms' salary jumped from $93,000 at the utility commission to $135,000 at Duke after he changed jobs in September. The commission's fine of $12,120 reflects three times the amount that Storms benefited from the job during his less than two months with the company.

Gov. Mitch Daniels also ousted the utility commission's then-chairman, David Lott Hardy, saying he knew about Storms' ethical conflict but did nothing about it. James Turner, who was the second-highest executive at Duke, resigned in December after the Indianapolis Star reported that he had sent hundreds of compromising e-mails to Indiana regulators.

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