CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A city attorney expressed concern in court Friday about prosecuting Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard in a citizen lawsuit to remove her from office.
Emily Woerner said that while the allegations are serious and the city wants them addressed, the city also doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the current federal criminal case against Dennard.
Woerner noted Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters had similar concerns that prompted him to hold off on taking action to suspend her.
Dennard’s attorney, Erik Laursen, said Friday that Dennard’s rights to due process need to be respected. The case hasn’t even gone to grand jury yet, he added.
“We’re going to defend, we’re going to move forward, and Tamaya will continue to fight,” Laursen said.
City attorneys are expected to announce their decision on or before the next hearing in the case on March 9. If there is a trial, it will be scheduled within 10 days of that hearing.
The lawsuit would be moot if Dennard would resign, Hamilton County Probate Court Judge Ralph Winkler pointed out to Dennard’s attorney.
The judge told Laursen it was important he discuss that with Dennard.
Anti-tax activist, Mark Miller of COAST, sued Thursday, along with his three sons and State Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mt. Lookout to have the councilwoman removed from office following her arrest on federal charges.
“This process allows for that quick resolution as to whether or not a removal should, or should not, take place. It does not determine the federal criminal case one way or the other,” said Curt Hartman who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Miller and others.
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.
The criminal complaint against Dennard is attached to the lawsuit as proof she “is or has been guilty of misfeasance or malfeasance in office” and now should be removed.
The lawsuit cites Ohio statute requiring Cincinnati’s City Solicitor’s Office to consider holding a trial to remove Dennard from office and, if they accept the case, hold a trial within 20 days of the lawsuit being filed.
The city solicitor could also hand the case over to a special prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest.
Winkler said in court Friday the suit is rare, this is only the second case he’s had like this.
Dennard will make a decision about her future on City Council by the end of next week, her attorneys have said.
“I know that I’m receiving a lot of good quality calls from the community, community members telling me they support Tamaya,” Laursen said.
Earlier this week, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said he was in discussions with Deters about whether to launch the process of seeking her suspension.
Yost could ask the Ohio State Supreme Court to appoint a special commission, one typically made up of retired judges from various counties in the state, to review the case and decide.
That process, however, can take months unless the elected official agrees to a voluntary suspension, as Pike County Sheriff Charlie Reader did when he was indicted last year on several felonies and misdemeanors.
On Thursday, Deters said in a statement: “We were asked by the US Attorney’s office to stand down for the time being. I will honor that request as so not to jeopardize or compromise their prosecution.”
Yost told FOX19 NOW they were going to allow Hamilton County Probate Court to handle the situation, noting it’s a faster process than going through the special commission.
“We don’t need dueling lawsuits,” Yost said.
Yost and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley have called for Dennard to resign if the allegations against her are true.