Friday, January 14, 2000

Ethics complaint misfiled

Panel doesn't investigate judges

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The Butler County prosecutor's complaint against a county judge was directed to an agency that has no power to act on it.

        Prosecutor John F. Holcomb, a Democrat whose campaign fund-raising practices were the subject of an Ohio Ethics Commission referral from Ohio Auditor James Petro, has said he filed ethics complaints against two Republican officeholders: County Auditor Kay Rogers and County Area I Court Judge Rob Lyons.

        Both Ms. Rogers and Mr. Lyons say they did nothing wrong, and that they think Mr. Holcomb's actions call for him to be replaced as their legal adviser.

        David E. Freel, executive director of the ethics commission, on Thursday emphasized that he can say nothing specific about any case because his agency investigates in secret. But Mr. Freel said any allegations involving judges “are outside the jurisdiction of the Ohio Ethics Commission.”

        He also said, “Generally, the commission does not have circumstances where public officials are filing complaints against each other.”

        Mr. Holcomb and Judge Lyons did not return telephone calls Thursday.

        Jonathan Coughlan, disciplinary counsel for the Ohio Supreme Court, said Mr. Holcomb's allegation against Judge Lyons is a type of complaint that could be handled by his office.

        Mr. Holcomb accuses Judge Lyons of allowing his law firm, Lyons & Lyons, to accept money the county paid on behalf of clients who cannot afford attorneys. In November, the county paid $10,000 to attorney Robert C. Schwieterman, an ex-associate of the Lyons firm. The money was paid for Mr. Schwieterman's representation of indigent clients in cases from 1997 to 1999, for which he failed to ask for payment earlier.

        Those cases happened in West Chester's Area II court; Judge Lyons presides in Oxford's Area I court.

        But Mr. Holcomb says by law all area courts are considered part of the same court system, so it would be improper or illegal for a judge's law firm to receive money from any of the individual courts.


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