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Famed Attorney on Hot Seat

By Kevin Osborne · April 1st, 2009 · Porkopolis

Most ultra-conservatives hate Big Government. Until they use it for their own personal benefit, that is.

A case in point is local attorney Chris Finney, a conservative activist who’s railed against the evils of excessive governmental power and wasteful spending for years.

As a leader of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), Finney, an Anderson Township resident, has helped defeat many tax levies on the ballot, mostly ones for Cincinnati Public Schools.

It’s not just fiscal issues that get Finney fired up; it’s also social issues and matters of “morality.” As part of his work with Citizens for Community Values, he wrote the charter amendment passed by voters in 1993 that prohibited city officials from enacting any laws aimed at protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination or hate crimes. The amendment was repealed by voters in 2004.

Here is COAST’s slogan in case anyone isn’t clear where Finney and his colleagues stand: “Our mission is to limit increases in taxes and spending to within the rate of inflation and to stop the abuse of power by government officials throughout Ohio.”

What happens, though, when attorneys abuse their power?

A heating and air conditioning contractor from West Chester has filed a lawsuit against Finney seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages after Finney used an archaic law to have the man arrested and processed into jail over a dispute involving money.

The contractor, John Meyer, alleges he did work on a building that Finney and his law partners own on Beechmont Avenue and they then tried to stiff him on the bill. Based on the advice of a sheriff’s deputy, Meyer went to the building Oct. 30 to complete documents related to the dispute.

The following day, Finney used a little-known power given to attorneys to charge Meyer with criminal trespassing, sign a warrant through Hamilton County Municipal Court and have Meyer arrested — all without the involvement of a police officer or prosecutor.

After reviewing the case, a judge dismissed the charge in December.

Meyer, however, alleges Finney’s actions constitute an abuse of process and malicious prosecution. Filing the charge was “a perverted attempt by defendants to accomplish an ulterior purpose for which the criminal complaint was not designated,” Meyer’s lawsuit states. Further, it states Finney “intentionally and without probable cause filed a complaint without approval of a detached and disinterested government official with authority to approve the filing of the criminal charge and the issuance of a warrant.”

A jury trial hasn’t yet been scheduled. Before Meyer filed the suit, he tried to get the Prosecutor’s Office to file criminal charges against Finney, but it declined. Later, County Prosecutor Joe Deters helped host a COAST fund-raiser.

An old Ohio law allows attorneys to ask for criminal arrest warrants but only for misdemeanor offenses, not felonies, and only if there’s probable cause. The practice is legal but rarely used and raises a host of ethical questions, some attorneys say. For example, if a non-attorney asked for an arrest warrant, that person most assuredly would be rejected and sent to mediation.

“It bugs me whenever we have people with no law enforcement experience making probable cause determinations,” says one attorney consulted by CityBeat.

Despite the lack of a criminal charge, Finney still could face an ethics complaint filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.

The whole unseemly affair raises a paradox. Apparently, having city officials install red-light cameras at intersections — which Finney led a successful petition drive against last year — is an abuse of government power, but using a loophole to have an enemy arrested isn’t.

All of Finney’s various mission statements and press releases sound somewhat cold and bureaucratic, but at least they’re professional. His own past remarks provide a better sense of what he’s really like.

While testifying in a court case in the early 1990s trying to overturn the city of Cincinnati’s human rights ordinance, Finney said landlords shouldn’t be forced to rent to gays or lesbians if they didn’t want to do so and employers shouldn’t have to hire them. Moreover, restaurants shouldn’t be forced to serve gay couples if other customers are disturbed by their presence.

“Because there may be some who don’t want their family dining next to a homosexual couple whose actions they find offensive,” Finney testified.

While Finney was stumping to help his friend and business partner Phil Heimlich get re-elected as a Hamilton County commissioner in 2006 (an effort that failed), Finney blithely dismissed the concerns of Cincinnati’s African-American community about police brutality that led to the 2001 riot. He noted that Heimlich had tried to block independent investigations into the deaths of black men like Lorenzo Collins and Roger Owensby Jr. during police confrontations.

Finney wrote, “When we needed to confront Damon Lynch and the rioters, Phil Heimlich stood up to the liberal City Council and demanded tough action.”

For good measure, he praised Heimlich for standing up to “a liberal cabal of social service groups” and “left-wing media.” Because, you know, Cincinnati is known as a hotbed of liberalism.

And in a splendid display of family values, Finney crashed a press conference held by Heimlich’s Democratic opponent, David Pepper, in October 2006 and flipped his lid. After Finney unleashed an expletive-laden tirade in front of reporters, Pepper’s press secretary tried to calm him down, to which Finney replied, “Kiss my ass … kiss it right here.”

The directive occurred after Finney yelled at Pepper, “You’re trying to smear my name because you’re a rich, fucking asshole.”

No, Mr. Finney, you’re doing a good job of that by yourself.

Porkopolis TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or pork@citybeat.com



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