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Lawyer Wants 'Gang Of Five' Held In Contempt Over Texts

gang of five
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Members of the so-called 'Gang of Five' include from top, L-R: P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman, Wendell Young, Tamaya Dennard and Chris Seelbach.

Updated: 4:59 p.m.

The plaintiff suing five Cincinnati Council Members for violating the state's open meetings law is asking a judge to hold them in contempt for failing to turn over all texts and emails sent between them this year.
Hamilton County Judge Robert Ruehlman had ordered Greg Landsman, P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young, Tamaya Dennard and Chris Seelbach to turn over all text messages and emails by November 2.

Last week, the five council members and the city of Cincinnati appealed that order. They argue they have the right "to protect communications that are privileged or confidential between elected officials and their attorneys."

Mark Miller of Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, or COAST, and his attorney, Brian Shrive, filed the case shortly after the text messages were revealed. They argue the five violated the open meeting law with a group text this spring when Major John Cranley was trying to fire now former City Manager Harry Black.

The five council members have released the texts shared among the larger group. But Ruehlman ordered all emails and texts they sent be turned over for discovery. Shrive has argued he needs to review those to determine if there were other violations of the open meeting law.

"Failure to comply with a judicial order disrupts the orderly administration of justice and is a serious offense," Shrive's law firm said in a press release. "This is entirely inappropriate conduct from elected officials. We hope that Judge Ruehlman orders them to appear in person to that they can explain themselves directly to the court."

City solicitor Paula Boggs Meuthing responded to a request for comment on the contempt filing via email Monday afternoon.

"This office has a duty to defend the interests of the City, making it necessary to protect communications that are privileged or confidential between elected officials and their attorneys," she wrote. "Such communications are outside the bounds of permissible discovery. To that end, we appealed Judge Ruehlman’s order of October 23, 2018 which required the production of all emails and texts from January 1, 2018 to present, including communications that are privileged and confidential. The City’s appeal divested the trial court of jurisdiction over this matter, leaving the trial court without authority to consider the plaintiff's motion. We expect this issue will be dispensed expeditiously."

There's a separate case pending before the First District Court of Appeals on whether text messages are a public record.

The five council members and the city are asking the appeals courts to consolidate the two cases.

"The two actions involve common questions of law and fact, so judicial economy would be served by consolidation," the city said in a court filing last week. "Left unchallenged, the trail court's discovery order would require respondents (five council members) to produce, among other things, many of the same documents sought by Miller in the pending mandamus case. After production, the proverbial 'bell could not later 'be unrung.' "

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.