by Frank Lewis
We get anonymous tips all the time. Sometimes they pan out, revealing true violations of the public trust. And sometimes somebody’s just eaten some sour grapes and is looking for quick revenge.
This might be a situation where a little of both is involved: Someone is accusing Parma Mayor Dean DePiero, a close pal of County Prosecutor Bill Mason and whose Parma City Hall has been ensnared by the county corruption probe, of breaking another set of laws. This time it appears pretty cut-and-dried: DePiero’s second job is part-time magistrate for Brook Park’s Traffic Court, and that, according to decade-old Ohio Supreme Court decisions, makes it illegal that he’s also a member of the executive committees for both the county and state Democratic Party.
The state’s High Court ruled in 1990 that it is “improper” for full-time or part-time judges or magistrates to “hold any office in a political organization”; in ’98, justices went further by asserting a prohibition against serving on a state or county executive committee. Depiero, a practicing attorney, notes his current membership to both executive committees on his bio (deandepiero.com).
And is he really the magistrate in Brook Park? Seems so. Not only did calls to DePiero’s office about this arrangement go unreturned, but a second inquiry to his Parma office on Wednesday went this way:
“Is Magistrate DePiero there today?”
Secretary: "He is in today, but he’s mayor in this office.”
A call on Tuesday to Gail Petsas, Brook Park’s clerk of courts, went like this:
“You have a magistrate for your court?”
“Is he part-time?”
“Can you hold on, please?”
Several minutes later, Petsas comes back to tell me to keep holding. Several minutes more, and she’s back on: “I’m going to transfer you to the mayor’s office. He can answer your questions.”
Mayor’s secretary: “The mayor’s in a meeting right now. He’ll have to call you back.”
Brook Park Mayor Mark Elliott didn’t call us back either.
It does seem fishy, right? Jonathan Entin, a constitutional law and public policy professor at Case since 1984, says the matter is “absolutely” worthy of reporting, even though he isn’t privy to the details.
Entin tried to visualize DePiero’s defense: “I will tell you that, in the last eight or 10 years, there have been developments at the U.S. Supreme Court, some cases suggesting that the First Amendment might limit some types of restrictions that can be put on judges on the types of campaign speech they can make. It is possible that some of the restrictions that exist could be challenged as abridging the rights of judges.”
Short of that, he couldn’t think of any reason DePiero should think what he was doing was just fine and dandy. In some ways, though, this is small potatoes to the other woes DePiero is facing these days.
A few months back, the feds took subpoenas to Parma City Hall, seeking info about contracts the city had signed with Municipal Solutions LLC, Vincore LLC, 888-OHIOCOMP and law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease — companies raided during the sweep of various Cuyahoga County offices months before. Vincore is run by Vince Russo, the son of Auditor Frank Russo, a target probe along with county Dem boss, County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora. Vince Russo was DePiero’s assistant in 2004.
In a press release after the feds’ visit to Parma City Hall, DePiero feigned nonchalance: “I am extremely confident the business conducted by the city of Parma has always been above-board, always conducted in a professional, legal and ethical manner.” — Dan Harkins