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Prosecutor Joe Deters says he's considering action against councilmembers in text message suit

'Determination' will be made in 10 days, he says
Posted at 1:58 AM, Nov 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-25 02:08:03-05

CINCINNATI -- At least one Cincinnati councilmember could face criminal charges stemming from a text message lawsuit against the so-called City Hall "Gang of Five."

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters told WCPO Saturday his office is reviewing the case involving five councilmembers, adding "in the next 10 days we will make a determination about what should be done." 

The suit accuses the five - Wendell Young, Tamaya Dennard, PG Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach and Greg Landsman - of violating the Ohio Open Meetings Act by having text conversations about official council business. A judge ordered the city to release all of their text messages and emails.

But last week, the firm suing them said attorneys for the city informed them that Young and Dennard no longer have those messages. Young says he deleted his messages, and Dennard claims she accidentally dropped her phone in a swimming pool.

Attorneys representing a conservative watchdog in his lawsuit against the five Democrats accused Young of deliberately deleting text messages to prevent their discovery.

"These were malicious acts," said attorney Brian Shrive. "This wasn't, ‘Oh, we accidentally deleted files early according to our schedule.' … This was Wendell Young deliberately deleting emails and text messages for the purpose of illegal disclosure."

Young and other city representatives did not respond to requests for comment last week.

The lawsuit filed by Finney Law Firm on behalf of watchdog Mark Miller in April demanded the city release all texts and emails exchanged in 2018 among the five. According to Miller, the Democrats' group-chat discussions of city issues -- including the process of firing former city manager Harry Black, about which they issued a joint statement -- were illegal secret meetings. 

Judge Robert Ruehlman ruled in Miller's favor and set a Nov. 2 deadline for the release of all their emails and texts. City solicitor Paula Boggs Muething appealed his order Oct. 31, claiming her office had a duty to "defend the interests of the city" and protect certain confidential communications between elected officials and their lawyers. 

Shrive responded by filing a motion to hold all five council members in contempt of court. 

About 80 pages of text messages had been released by the deadline. You can read them here.