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Tamaya Dennard bows out of meeting early to receive Gang of Five subpoena from special prosecutor

Posted at 8:32 PM, Jan 23, 2020

CINCINNATI — Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard excused herself early from a Thursday City Council meeting to receive a subpoena at her lawyer’s office.

The subpoena did not request specific pieces of information, defense attorney Erik Laursen said, but was connected to the Gang of Five case in which Dennard is among the eponymous defendants. The subpoena has not been made public at this time.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced in mid-December the group — P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young, all on City Council at the time of the allegations — could face criminal charges for conducting public business in emails and text messages during 2018.

By then, the city had already spent $177,000 to settle a conservative watchdog’s lawsuit over the scandal and released nearly 1,000 pages of private messages. In the released texts and emails, the councilmembers gossip, call names, repeat rumors of other officials’ extramarital affairs and — most pertinently — discuss upcoming votes and statements.

Critics including Deters and Judge Robert Ruehlman have argued discussing city politics in private violates the Ohio Open Meetings Act, which requires all such discussions among city leaders to be accessible by the public.

"I think they clearly violated the Sunshine Law," Deters, a Republican, said in December. "What they did was dumb, arrogant."

Each councilmember agreed to pay a $200 fine after the settlement. The civil portion of the scandal was over.

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, a Republican, announced days later he planned to officially investigate the scandal as part of his normal financial audit of the city.

Deters announced in December that Faber had referred the case for possible criminal prosecution. The charge he recommended: Derilection of duty, a misdemeanor carrying a possible sentence of 90 days in jail and $750 in fines.

Judge Charles Kubicki appointed former U.S. attorney Pat Hanley as a special prosecutor. Hanley had not announced any charges by Thursday when Dennard was served.

Laursen, Dennard’s lawyer, said he didn’t believe charges were warranted.

“I think that any criminal charges based on the actions of these council members would be unfounded,” he said.