Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Court overturns ex-judge's conviction

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - More than three years after he was accused of soliciting an improper political contribution from a employee, Mark Conese is savoring an appeals court's reversal of his misdemeanor conviction.

Conese, who formerly served as a Domestic Relations Court judge and elections board member, declared Monday: "I didn't break the law, and I'm an innocent man."

Conese was fined $250 and was banned for seven years from holding a position of public trust or public office.

Prosecutor Robin Piper said he plans to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to grant permission for an appeal.

Appellate judges from neighboring Montgomery County said their decision hinged on the definition of the word "coerce," an essential element of the law.

Ohio law lacks a specific definition of "coerce," so the ordinary meaning - "to enforce or bring about by force or threat" - must be used, the judges said.

The case revolved around a March 1, 2000, meeting secretly tape-recorded by Brent Dixon, a special assistant to the Butler County elections board.

The meeting included Dixon, Conese and Donald Daiker, then chairman of the county Democratic Party. Dixon was told he could lose his job if he didn't increase his party contributions, the appeals court noted. Dixon switched parties in a primary election six days later, and he didn't make the contributions. Piper said that was why the appeals court felt Dixon wasn't coerced: no money changed hands.

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com

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