Attorney: Dennard ‘allowed to disregard subpoena’ in ‘Gang of Five’ criminal case

Updated: Jan. 26, 2020 at 12:13 AM EST
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - The attorney for Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard said she is no longer required to report to a Hamilton County grand jury in a few days.

“My client is allowed to disregard the subpoena,” Erik Laursen told FOX19 NOW.

On Friday, Laursen confirmed to us a special prosecutor has convened a grand jury as he looks into whether five Cincinnati council members broke the law by being derelict of duty when they secretly conducted city business via private text messages and emails.

Laursen also told us Dennard was under subpoena to appear before a Hamilton County grand jury at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

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It’s not clear why Dennard no longer has to report to the grand jury.

Laursen declined Saturday to discuss the matter further.

The special prosecutor, Patrick Hanley, has not responded to requests for comment.

Dennard was served with the subpoena Thursday by a process server from the State Auditors’s Office on behalf of Hanley. The process server went to City Hall to try to find her.

She excused herself from attending a council meeting scheduled to begin shortly and left, later meeting the process server at Laursen’s office where she was served.

Laursen has stressed Dennard did not try to evade being served, and they do not believe criminal charges are warranted.

Last month, the State Auditor’s Office recommended an investigation into a misdemeanor charge of dereliction of duty for the texting and using taxpayer money to hire outside attorneys to represent themselves.

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The Gang of Five involves five Democratic members of Cincinnati City Council - Dennard, Chris Seelbach, Wendell Young, P.G. Sittenfeld, and Greg Landsman, who admitted in a 2019 lawsuit settlement to privately communicating city business via text messages and emails in 2018.

Attorneys for Landsman and Seelbach tell FOX19 NOW those council members have not been served with a subpoena.

“I’ve been in contact with Pat Hanley, the special prosecutor,” said Tom Hodges, who represents Seelbach.

“It’s an investigation. We’re cooperating. We don’t believe there is any Ohio law or precedent to support any criminal charges in this case - and I wouldn’t even say case - in this matter.

"There’s never been in Ohio history criminal prosecution for anything related to an Open Meetings Act issue. We just don’t consider it a criminal matter and we don’t think Ohio law does either. They dealt with this issue in court already. If you look at where this case came from, this came from an investigation from a Republican elected state auditor against five Democratic council members. If you look at Open Meetings Act violations for Republican-elected bodies, you’ll notice they’ve never been referred for prosecution for anything.”

We have left requests for comment with Young and Sittenfeld but did not hear back.

Our news partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer are reporting they have confirmed Sittenfeld was not subpoenaed.

This is the second time a grand jury has been convened to look into the “Gang of Five."

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters did in late November 2018 after discovering Young purposely deleted his text messages and Dennard said she lost hers when her phone was damaged at a pool.

Ultimately, Deters turned the case over to a county judge to handle, saying civil court was the more appropriate place to handle the matter.

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The settlement for the lawsuit cost the city $176,000 in total: $90,000 of which went to the law firm that launched the civil suit on behalf of an anti-tax activist.

Another $10,000 paid a statutory forfeiture because Young said he purposely deleted his text messages.

The city paid $75,000 in legal fees from outside lawyers to represent the city and the five council members in the suit, leaving the Open Meetings Act violation fine at $1,000.

RELATED: | Judge: Not enough evidence to hold Wendell Young in contempt for deleting texts in ‘Gang of Five’ case

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