February 13, 2019LAPEER — Lapeer County Circuit Court Judge Byron Konschuh will again answer to allegations regarding the handling of funds while he served as Lapeer County Prosecutor between the years of 2009-2013.
The state's Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) on Friday requested the appointment of a special master to conduct a hearing regarding a 96-page complaint that contains some 21 allegations that Konschuh violated Michigan Court Rules, Rules of Professional Conduct and the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct. The judge has 14 days to respond to the complaint. If not exhonorated following the hearing, Konschuh could face sanctions and/or reprimand.
The initial counts reiterate Konschuh's handling of funds his office received while he was prosecutor from BounceBack, a bad check recovery firm, and funds received from LEORTC for law enforcement training sessions provided by the prosecutor's office.
Questions were raised by former Lapeer County Prosecutor Tim Turkelson, who took over as prosecutor when Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Konschuh to the bench in March of 2013.
A special prosecutor was assigned to look into the matter by the Michigan Attorney General's office. Following a state police investigation, Special Prosecutor Deana Finnegan of Shiawassee County charged Konschuh with five counts of embezzlement by a public official over $50 in July of 2014. The total sum in question was about $1,800.00. Konschuh was placed on paid administrative leave as the case winded its way through the courts.
Locally, the case became known as 'donut gate,' as Konschuh and his attorney Mike Sharkey (now the Lapeer County Prosecutor) asserted that the funds were spent on coffee, donuts, lunches and the like for employees, law enforcement personnel and others associated with the prosecutor's office, and produced receipts for same.
Two years later, (2016) Genesee County Circuit Judge Geoffrey Neithercut, who was appointed to the case, dismissed all charges; Konschuh entered a no contest plea to a single misdemeanor accounting violation. Ninety days later, Konschuh's record was cleared, and he returned to the bench.
In May of 2017, Konschuh sued Turkelson, County Administrator John Biscoe, Treasurer Dana Miller, former Chief Assistant Prosecutor John Miller and prosecuting attorney Cailin Wilson and Lapeer County, alleging that his reputation was damaged when he was falsely accused of embezzling funds.
His attorney, Tom Pabst said Konschuh was seeking to clear his name. That case is pending; a facilitation hearing took place on Monday.
Regarding the JTC, along with the 'financial improprieties' counts, the complaint alleges Konschuh exhibited "improper demeanor" to a Mayfield Township family during the 2016 write-in campaign for attorney Dave Richardson, who launched an unsuccessful challenge to Circuit Judge Nick Holowka for his seat on the bench. The JTC also alleges that Konschuh made "false and misleading statements" while under oath during a deposition in Oakland County Circuit Court and to the JTC.
Konschuh's attorney in the matter—Don Campbell of Collins Einhorn Farrell PC—issued a press release on Friday. Campbell specializes in attorney grievance defense, representation in Judicial Tenure matters and legal malpractice defense. He has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law teaching courses in Ethics and Criminal Law, since 2002.
"The JTC's Examiner has filed a complaint that originates from a dispute over tens of dollars from what was now a decade or more ago," Campbell says in the release. "Judge Konschuh has served the people of Lapeer County with distinction and honor for more than 30 years. These efforts to disparage him involve the twisting of the definition of 'public money' to include funds that neither his predecessor nor his successor treated any differently than was done in his terms as prosecutor. The Examiner appears to have been misled by local political mudslingers and that is unfortunate."
Campbell says he's certain that once the process is complete, his client will be cleared of all charges.
"We are confident that a Special Master appointed by the Supreme Court will wade through the issues and determine the facts fairly and correctly and exonerate Judge Konschuh."
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.