Thursday, March 22, 2001

Ex-judge faces ethics complaint

Ohio Supreme Court panel is investigating

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — After Mark Conese was ousted from the Butler County Board of Elections in a campaign finance scandal, his brother and law partner faces possible disciplinary action in a separate matter.

        The Disciplinary Counsel of the Ohio Supreme Court accuses Michael Conese of three counts of violating the Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers.

        Mr. Conese accused of telling two clients he had spoken to judges and/or prosecutors about getting special consideration for them. In the third case, Mr. Conese is accused of keeping money that was supposed to pay a client's child support obligation.

        Mr. Conese was a Hamilton Municipal Judge who lost when he ran for re-election in November 1995.

        His brother, Mark, was a judge in Butler County Domestic Relations Court from 1986-98.

        George M. Parker, a Mason attorney representing Michael Conese, filed a written response to the allegations.

        Mr. Parker says his client denies wrongdoing and at least one accusation should be dismissed because the investigation had gone on so long it violated Mr. Conese's right to a fair hearing.

        The alleged misconduct dates to 1997-98. The Disciplinary Counsel's office on Wednesdaysaid rules prohibit disclosing when the investigation began.

        A hearing will be set before a three-member panel of the court's Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline. The panel may dismiss the complaint; or if it finds “clear and convincing evidence,” it may recommend discipline ranging from public reprimand to disbarment, said Lori J. Brown, first assistant disciplinary counsel.

        The Ohio Supreme Court would make a final decision on any action, Ms. Brown said.

        Mr. Conese, an Ohio lawyer since 1983, admits he met with the clients in question but says he committed no improprieties.

        The Disciplinary Counsel's complaint says:

        • In 1997-98, Michael Conese was working on behalf of David Rose, who was jailed on a probation violation. Mr. Conese allegedly claimed he had “discussed Mr. Rose's case with the assigned judge over dinner.” Mr. Conese also allegedly reported talking to an assistant prosecutor who was assigned Mr. Rose's case and saying the prosecutor was expected to do him a favor “because of the mortgage (Mr. Conese) held on the prosecutor's home.”

        There was no evidence that the prosecutor or judge had those improper discussions with Mr. Conese, the Disciplinary Counsel said.

        • In 1997, Mr. Conese is accused of accepting $4,000 from the family of a client, Barry Butler, and keeping $1,000 that was supposed to go toward Mr. Butler's child support debt.

        • In 1997, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Faulkner paid Mr. Conese $1,000 to represent Mrs. Faulkner's brother, Chad Tharp, in a criminal case. Mr. Conese allegedly “claimed to be best friends” with former Butler County Prosecutor John Holcomb, and “guaranteed he would get Mrs. Faulkner's brother out of jail.” Mr. Conese also allegedly made similar statements to Mr. Tharp.


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