Ohio attorney general takes aim at Wall Street

NEW YORK Fri Nov 13, 2009 2:16pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - It is hard to believe that Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, with his state facing its own woes, would be hanging around Wall Street looking for a fight.

But that is exactly what he has done since being elected Ohio's top lawyer a year ago.

He's already knee-deep in litigation against major financial institutions, including Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), and recently told Reuters that his team of about 400 attorneys is looking for other opportunities to hold Wall Street's feet to the fire.

"I believe that we create wealth and they organize it in a way that is beneficial to themselves," said Cordray, a former state treasurer, lawmaker and solicitor general.

To Cordray, the "we" is the people in the economically struggling state he represents. The "they" is the banks, brokerages and insurers that benefited from billions of dollars of taxpayer bailouts.

Cordray says he has standing to take on Wall Street because his office represents some of the nation's largest public funds, including the Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio and the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

"It's a badge of honor for us," said Cordray, a five-time champion on the TV game show "Jeopardy" before his career in politics.

On Friday, Cordray announced a $400 million settlement of a class action suit against Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc (MMC.N), an insurance broker. State pension funds from Ohio and New Jersey were the lead plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in New York. <id:nN13467183>

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, who have jurisdiction over Wall Street, are the models for leaders on the state level aggressively challenging financial companies.

ROOTING ON

Cordray, who said his office is involved in a handful of major securities legal actions, said he is "rooting on" his counterparts in other states and sometimes collaborating with them on lawsuits.

Ohio, for example, is leading a lawsuit on behalf of five pension funds claiming that Bank of America fraudulently concealed Merrill's losses even as it let Merrill award $3.6 billion of bonuses in 2008.

The suit seeks to recover billions of dollars from the bank and others, including outgoing Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis and former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain.

Cordray has been criticized for meddling in Wall Street and making matters worse for the recovering financial services sector, which taxpayers have handed a lifeline.

"We do feel strongly that they need to be held accountable like everyone else," Cordray said. "There is no special rules and they no longer should be conducting themselves as if there are special rules."

(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)