May 24, 2017LAPEER — Though spring is definitely in the air, things may be a little chilly at the county courthouse and administrative offices.
County Administrator John Biscoe and Treasurer Dana Miller are among six defendants named last week in a lawsuit filed by Circuit Court Judge Byron Konschuh.
Former Prosecutor Tim Turkelson, his former chief assistant John Miller and prosecuting attorney Cailin Wilson are also named in the suit—as is Lapeer County.
Konschuh, through his attorney Tom Pabst, alleges that his reputation was damaged when he was falsely accused of embezzling funds from 2008 to 2013 when he was Lapeer County Prosecutor.
"He is seeking to clear his name. For a long time his name was smeared by people falsely claiming he committed felony crimes when the facts were never there," Pabst says. "They knew it was false, and this lawsuit is an attempt to clear his name."
In 2014, Konschuh faced five felony counts of embezzlement by a public official of more than $50 following an investigation prompted by then Prosecutor Tim Turkelson.
Judge Byron Konschuh and his attorney Michael Sharkey listen as special prosecutor Deana Finnegan makes objection during Judge Byron Konschuh's preliminary exam in October of 2014.
Turkelson contacted the state attorney general's office when he could find no protocol for a bad check recovery fee that crossed his desk.
The case was assigned to special prosecutor Deana Finnegan of Shiawassee County. At the time, Finnegan was also running for an open judge's seat in her county.
In question were some 42 bad check recovery fee checks totalling $1,802 which were deposited into Konschuh's personal accounts. A protracted court battle followed, with Konschuh's then-attorney Michael Sharkey—who beat Turkelson for the Lapeer County Prosecutor's seat in the November, 2016 election—asserting that the funds in question were not "public funds" and therefore no embezzlement occurred. Sharkey also argued that the funds were used for lunches, coffee and donuts for courthouse staff and visitors and provided receipts for the expenditures.
Throughout the 20 month long ordeal, Konschuh was on paid administrative leave.
The felony charges were dropped in March of last year when the parties reached an agreement. Konschuh entered a 'no contest' plea to a misdemeanor and after a period of time, his record was cleared.
He returned to the bench in last April.
In his complaint filed last week, Konschuh alleges that the defendants worked in collusion to destroy his reputation and career as a judge. Among the counts listed in the complaint are Abuse of Process, Invasion of Privacy, Libel/Slander, Tortious Interference, and Gross Negligence. He is seeking a jury trial, and damages in excess of $100,000. The case has been assigned to Judge Nick Holowka, who will likely recuse himself.
"I believe in juries, I believe they try to do the right thing," Pabst says. "There are people out there who still have doubts about what happened and how did it happen. If a jury hears all the evidence and rules in his favor, and I believe they will, that will clear my client's name. This isn't an eye for an eye or tooth for tooth. This is to clear his name."
Messages left for Turkelson, John Miller, Wilson, Biscoe and Dana Miller were not returned by press time.
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.