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Judge orders text messages released in 'Gang of 5' case

Posted at 12:36 PM, Oct 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-22 19:15:29-04

CINCINNATI -- A Hamilton County judge ordered on Monday that all text messages in the so-called "Gang of Five" case, which involved secret text messages sent among a group of City Council Democrats, be released.

A date has not yet been set for when the messages will be made public under Judge Robert Ruehlman's order.

The suit, filed by attorney Brian Shrive on behalf of local government watchdog Mark Miller, alleges Cincinnati City Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young violated Ohio’s Open Meetings Act, which says all meetings of a public body must be open to the public.

The lawsuit accuses them of “attempting to decide matters of great public import behind closed doors and in secret communications, and subverting the public’s right to know and understand the actions of its public officials."

The council members' attorneys released 79 pages of texts on Friday, but Ruehlman's order means many more will be released, running from January through April.

The released texts cover topics like former City Manager Harry Black, the FC Cincinnati deal and dislike for Mayor John Cranley.

"Democracy is dying behind closed doors, and when the government begins closing doors it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people," Shrive said. "And selective information is misinformation."

Attorneys representing the five council members maintained the 79 pages already released should suffice.

"What they're asking for is too broad," attorney Aaron Herzig said. "The court's job is to prevent a fishing expedition."

Ruehlman sided with Shrive.

"When you get election to an office, I think some politicians think that they work for themselves," he said. "They work for the people who elected them ... Although some of those things might be embarrassing, I think they should be released and I'll decide whether or not it will be introduced into evidence."

The judge also denied a motion to allow Derek Baumann to intervene in the case. Baumann had wanted to include Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman in the proceedings too.

Read the released texts below:

First round of 'Gang of Five' texts by WCPO Web Team on Scribd