Saturday, January 12, 2002

Lawyer under fire up for job

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — A Hamilton lawyer under Supreme Court disciplinary review is being considered for a top job by the judge who is his lawyer in the proceedings.

        New Mason Municipal Judge George Parker said Supreme Court officials told him it would not pose ethical problems if he hires Michael Conese in the newly created $52,000 position of court ad ministrator.

        Mr. Conese, a Democrat and former Hamilton city judge whose relatives contributed $350 to Judge Parker's campaign, is among three applicants for the job, said Judge Parker. The judge took office last week.

        In fact, Mr. Conese was in court last week, advising Judge Parker on the person nel procedures for hiring new staff members. Judge Parker said Mr. Conese was not paid.

        “For whatever faults people think Mr. Conese might have, the man knows the law, and he is my friend and I asked him for help and he gave it to me,” Judge Parker said.

        As for the possibility of hiring him, the judge added: “I know Mike to be a wonderful man, and I would give him every consideration as I would every qualified applicant.”

        Judge Parker declined to discuss his business relationship with Mr. Conese.

        He served as Mr. Conese's attorney Dec. 19 at a hearing in Columbus to de termine whether Mr. Conese violated the Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers.

        Mr. Conese, who lost his bid for re-election to the Hamilton municipal bench in November 1995, is accused of accepting $4,000 from the family of a client and keeping $1,000 that was supposed to go toward the man's child support debt.

        The Ohio Supreme Court's Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline could make a decision on Mr. Conese's case on Feb. 1. The board may recommend discipline ranging from public reprimand to disbarment. Mr. Conese has denied wrongdoing. He did not return repeated calls from the Enquirer this week.

        Campaign finance records filed with the Warren County Board of Elections show that his wife, Kate, contributed $250 to Judge Parker's campaign in a hotly contested four-way Republican primary race last May.

        Mr. Conese's twin brother, Mark, and sister-in-law contributed $100. Mark Conese, a former Butler County Board of Elections member, top Democratic party leader, and domestic relations judge who once employed Judge Parker as a magistrate, is now under indictment for allegedly coercing an elections board worker to surrender most of his county salary to the party.

        Jon Coughlan, disciplinary counsel for the Ohio Supreme Court, said a judge's hiring of a legal client whose family made campaign contributions was not necessarily improper.

        “Unless I had direct informa tion the job was received as a quid pro quo, I have no reason to assume there was an impropriety,” Mr. Coughlan said.

        However, he did not rule out looking into the matter if evidence warranted it.

        The court administrator's position is among eight new jobs Judge Parker created in a Jan. 4 order to nearly triple the court staff. Council has not yet authorized the money for the personnel expansion, but could consider it as early as Monday.

        The prospect of hiring Mr. Conese drew fire from Warren County GOP Chairman Les Spaeth, who objected to Mr. Conese's political affiliation and his recent legal troubles.

        “A lot of people in the party worked for (Judge Parker) to get him elected,” Mr. Spaeth said. “He told me "Les, I will never embarrass you.' He embarrassed me first thing he walked in the door.

        “The Conese boys have been in a lot of trouble. I'm really concerned that people will look at this in a bad light, and it will embarrass the Republican party.”


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