Appeals court revives Sycamore Township defamation case

Trustee Tom Weidman can challenge 'fake email'
Posted at 1:46 PM, May 24, 2022

CINCINNATI — Sycamore Township Trustee Tom Weidman can renew his defamation lawsuit against developer Christopher Hildebrant, after an appeals court ruled Ohio’s one-year statute of limitations does not apply to a “fake email” Hildebrant admitted writing in 2011.

The controversy emerged in the summer of 2020, when the Ohio Auditor’s office was asked to investigate Hildebrant’s claims that Weidman sought bribes for proposed Kenwood land deals from 2009 to 2012. Hildebrant offered an email as evidence of the alleged bribes. But he later admitted he wrote the email to himself before showing it to a third party in December 2011. When he showed it to Sycamore Township officials in early 2020, they sought an investigation.

Warren County Judge Donald Oda ruled Weidman’s defamation claim should have been filed within one year of the email’s first publication in 2011, but the Twelfth District Court of Appeals disagreed.

“Given the secretive manner in which Hildebrant went about publishing the defamatory remarks, Weidman could not have known about the libelous conduct and the injury resulting therefrom until November 18, 2020 – the date he met with investigators from the Auditor's Office,” said the May 23 ruling. “The trial court's decision granting summary judgment to Hildebrant is reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings.”

Weidman's attorney, Todd McMurtry, said via email that he was "grateful" the court established "safeguards for those defamed through secretive defamatory communications." He said the case might be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Hildebrant’s attorneys did not respond to an email inquiry.

RELATED: I-Team names Hildebrant as cooperating witness in City Hall corruption case.

While Weidman’s Warren County case can now proceed against Hildebrant, a Hamilton County lawsuit that deals with the same issues is on hold pending appeal.

In that lawsuit, Hildebrant’s company, Morelia Group-DE LLC, alleged Weidman interfered with its attempt to sell land to the township in 2019 because Morelia failed to pay bribes to Weidman a decade earlier. In March, Hamilton County Judge Terry Nestor rejected Wiedman’s motion to dismiss Morelia’s claim but granted Morelia’s motion to dismiss Weidman’s counterclaim of defamation. Wiedman is now asking Ohio’s First District Appeals Court to dismiss Morelia’s claim as well.

All of that means the legal sparring will continue while taxpayers foot the bill. Last September, Sycamore Township Trustee Tom James said the case has so far cost about $15,000.

“Assuming this reversal stands, and the case moves forward in Warren County Common Pleas Court, it seems likely that the parties will certainly engage in additional discovery, meaning that they will make additional demands for records to the township and that they will be taking depositions of various witnesses,” James said. “As before, some of the cost of responding to that discovery will probably fall on Township taxpayers.”

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