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Wendell Young cleared of contempt over deleted 'Gang of 5' texts

City councilman to apologize to Plush family
Posted at 11:26 AM, May 02, 2019

CINCINNATI — There isn't evidence showing that City Councilman Wendell Young should be held in contempt for deleting text messages in the so-called "Gang of Five" case, Judge Robert Ruehlman said Thursday.

The judge's comments came during a hearing he said was mainly held in order to air the information to the public. That means case, which has drawn scrutiny into how some city officials conducted public business in private, should likely now be done with. The five council members already agreed to a settlement in March, admitting to breaking city and state sunshine laws.

As part of the settlement, the city also agreed to pay $101,000 in fees and forfeiture to conservative local government watchdog Mark Miller, who filed the initial lawsuit alleging that P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach and Young had discussed official business like the process of firing former City Manager Harry Black via private text message.

Young in particular faced criticism after Brian Shrive, Miller's attorney, said the councilman had "deliberately" deleted emails and text messages in an effort to avoid disclosing them.

However, it's not clear exactly when Young deleted those messages, including whether it was before or after Ruehlman had ordered the officials to turn them over. Law enforcement analyzed his phone, but weren't able to prove a timeline. Scott Croswell, Young's attorney, said the texts were deleted before the order. Shrive said he believed Young was lying, but agreed with the judge that there was no evidence.

"I will not find him guilty of criminal contempt," Ruehlman said.