Voters, state lawmaker sue to remove Tamaya Dennard from office

Updated: Feb. 27, 2020 at 10:49 AM EST
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - An anti-tax activist sued Thursday to have Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard removed from office following her arrest on federal charges earlier this week.

A status hearing is scheduled at 9 a.m. Friday in Hamilton County Probate Court.

Dennard is accused in federal court records of engaging in acts and attempting acts of bribery and extortion and trying to exchange her votes for money between August and December 2019.

An FBI agent wrote in a criminal complaint she requested between $10,000 and $15,000 from an unnamed person to pay for her personal expenses. The person went to the FBI and then, under the FBI’s direction, he or she exchanged a total of $15,000 with Dennard for upcoming votes.

RELATED | Mayor Cranley says Dennard 'needs to resign’ if allegations against her are true | Cincinnati Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard tried to exchange her votes for money, feds say | 'Judgment is so easy’: Tamaya Dennard makes first comments following arrest

The criminal complaint against Dennard is attached to the lawsuit, which says it shows she “is or has been guilty of misfeasance or malfeasance in office” and now should be removed.

The lawsuit was filed in Hamilton County Probate Court by attorney Curt Hartman. He represents the main plaintiff, Mark Miller, who is joined in the legal action by his three sons and State Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mt. Lookout. They are other four voters required to be part of the request for it to proceed.

“Somebody’s gotta do something,” Brinkman tells FOX19 NOW in an interview Thursday morning. “Somebody’s gotta show some leadership. Let’s force a change. Let’s get it done.

He said local Democrats are "in chaos" over Dennard's criminal charges so Republicans are taking the matter in hand for the good of the city.

“(Councilman Greg) Landsman said we can’t move on unless we have nine council members. Well, OK let’s do something. Instead, they are running around going ‘We have to wait.’ ‘We can’t do anything.’ ‘No comment.’ They have no comment, they have nothing to say. And these are the same people that before (President Donald) Trump was even sworn in were saying ‘we are going to resist and fight him’, yet when one of their own is brought into court in shackles they are beside themselves with indecision and fear.”

The lawsuit cites Ohio statute that Hartman says requires Cincinnati’s City Solicitor’s Office to consider holding a trial to remove Dennard from office and, if they accept the case, begin proceedings in 10 days with an initial hearing.

A trial would be then held 10 days after that, he said.

“Cincinnati’s city charter does not provide a means to recall council members when they engage in gross misconduct or criminal conduct while in office. But the Ohio General Assembly has provided a process to address those issues. We are now implementing that process with this filing in the probate court and it will ultimately be in the hands of City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething and Hamilton County Probate Court Judge Ralph Winkler to resolve the issues.”

The main plaintiff in the lawsuit, Miller, is the treasurer of Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). Miller successfully sued the city of Cincinnati, Dennard and four other council members for the release of thousands of their secret texts and emails to privately and illegally decide city business.

Hartman also recently filed a complaint on Miller’s behalf with the Ohio Elections Commission against Dennard over allegations related to her, her campaign committee and campaign treasurer.

Two payments totaling $2,700 listed in her 2019 campaign finance report were paid to Dennard for “consulting," yet there are no documents to support or justify the payments, the complaint states.

We reached out to attorneys representing the Democratic councilwoman Thursday but were told they have no comment at this time.

On Wednesday, Dennard’s attorneys released a statement on her behalf that said she “looks forward to addressing the serious allegations made against her. She understands there are immediate questions about her continued service on City Council. She recognizes that her constituents deserve to know whether she will continue to serve in the seat to which she was elected while she works to clear her name. To that end, Ms. Dennard will make a decision about her future on City Council by the end of next week.”

An initial hearing on the complaint for removal is scheduled for March 9 at 11 a.m. in Hamilton County Probate Court.

Judge Ralph Winkler also plans to hold a status conference Friday.

All parties in the complaint for removal are expected to be there as long as Dennard is served with a copy of the lawsuit on Thursday. A lawyer can attend on her behalf.

We could learn at that time if the City Solicitor’s Office will prosecute the case against her for removal.

We have a request for comment into Boggs Muething and will update this story once we hear back.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost or Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters could try under state law to have Dennard suspended from office pending resolution of her criminal case.

Yost said they are going to allow the Hamilton County Probate Court to handle the issue of whether she remains on council while the criminal case against her plays out.

It’s a faster process they could reach by asking the Ohio Supreme Court to convene a special commission to consider suspending her, he noted.

“We don’t need dueling lawsuits,” Yost said.

He thinks Dennard should resign.

“I agree with Mayor Cranley, she probably should step down.”

On Thursday, Deters announced via a spokeswoman for his office that he was asked by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio to “stand down for the time being. I will honor that request as so not to jeopardize or compromise their prosecution.”

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