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Judge appoints attorney to review 'Gang of 5' text messages

Posted: 12:36 PM, Nov 28, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-28 18:11:46-05

CINCINNATI -- A court-appointed "special master" will review all of the text messages sent between five Cincinnati City Council members to determine which are relevant to a court case alleging officials discussed city business in private.

Judge Jody Luebbers agreed with the request from the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office to appoint attorney Doug Nicholas as the special master to review the "Gang of Five" text messages dating between Jan. 1 and Oct. 23 for relevancy. The review will allow private texts to remain private.

"I don't want my prosecutors going through private text messages," Prosecutor Joe Deters said.

Mark Miller filed a lawsuit against five City Council members earlier this year alleging they had violated Ohio's Open Meetings Act by discussing city business like the employment of former City Manager Harry Black in private via text.

In court Wednesday, Assistant Prosecutor Mark Piepmeyer said nothing in the lawsuit over the texts is criminal, but destruction of texts could potentially be charged as tampering with evidence. 

Attorney Brian Shrive, who is representing Miller in the lawsuit, said last week that Councilman Wendell Young deliberately deleted messages.

Young and Councilman Greg Landsman testified before a grand jury Tuesday. Deputies said Monday they were serving subpoenas to the other members of the group, Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld.

"I believe that it's absolutely politically driven," Landsman said Tuesday. "That doesn't mean that people didn't make mistakes. That doesn't mean that I didn't make a mistake. I said when it happened, it was a mistake."

Judge Robert Ruehlman already ruled in Miller's favor last month, ordering all the texts be released by Nov. 2. However, the city has appealed that decision.

"The only impact that we're worried about is information that dealt with the potential tampering with evidence against Judge Ruehlman's order," Deters said Wednesday.

Nicholas will update the court and county on his progress Monday, but there is no strict deadline for him to finish his review.

About 80 pages of texts have already been released.