Duke Energy has turned to a high-powered corporate law firm to conduct an internal review of the power company's hiring of Indiana utilities regulator Scott Storms to work for Duke's legal division.
The hiring of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher indicates the escalating ethics flap in Indiana risks broader legal exposure for the Charlotte-based power company and its top executives. Duke has utility operations in five states, including Indiana.
The ethics scandal has already resulted in the launching of a state investigation by the Indiana Inspector General, who is looking to see if any state laws were broken. The state has reopened all regulatory rulings in Indiana concerning Duke in which Storms presided.
Meanwhile, Duke has placed Storms on administrative leave as the review unfolds. Duke has also suspended the top state executive who hired Storms: Duke Energy Indiana President Mike Reed.
Earlier this month, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels fired David Lott Hardy, the chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for his role in Storms' hiring at Duke, and for not removing Storms from regulatory cases involving Duke.
Hardy had agreed to be Storms' reference and knew that Storms, then IURC's general counsel, was in discussions with Duke even though he was overseeing regulatory matters that affected the electric utility.
The two had exchanged jocular e-mails about Storms' interest in working as a Duke lawyer and getting the matter approved by the state ethics panel. The e-mails came to light from a public records request by the Indianapolis Star.
Duke CEO James Rogers said the e-mails will be part of the company's review.
"Many of these e-mails are very concerning to Duke Energy," Rogers said in a statement.
According to the Indianapolis Star, Storms signed off on matters that helped clear the way for Duke to pass on to customers the cost overruns for a $2.9 billion coal gasification plant.
Indiana ethics rules require regulators to wait one year before taking a job with a company they regulate. But the Indiana Ethics Commission said last month the rule didn't apply to Storms, clearing the way for his hiring by Duke.