Deters stepped in solid waste issue, threatens County Commissioners: "[P]roceed at your own peril"

The Cincinnati Post
Hamilton County Commissioner Stephanie Dumas taken aback by Deters' threat of "peril"ICRC, County Commissioners, 2021

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters stepped his foot right into the solid waste rules issue yesterday. He made a subordinate go to the commissioner's staffing meeting Tuesday and read a poorly worded statement, warning the county commissioners not to pass rules regulating the solid waste industry (in Hamilton County, that means Rumpke):

"This matter is probably going to be litigated at great, great cost. He (Deters) is asking for a reasonable amount of time to review everything. December 16th is way too early. But more importantly if you do proceed on the 16th, it will be against the prosecutor's advice and at your own peril.

This, coming from Deters' after commissioners waited nearly 6 months to get a legal opinion from him, only to be told a couple weeks ago, that his office lacked sufficient knowledge in the field to render any opinion. Deters walked away from the case and left the commissioners hanging.

Albin Bauer, an attorney with over 30 years of experience in the field, was hired. He cut his teeth on the precedent-setting, Clarkco case wherein a landfill operator contested the county district's authority to create and enforce local rules. (Same thing we're dealing with here.) The case has been cited 13 times since 1996 and remains the precedent. Bauer was up to speed when he advised the county to move forward on passing rules. Now, Deters' is suddenly well-informed on the topic and threatening the commissioners that if they take the advice of the expert it's going to be at "great, great costs" and he isn't representing them.

Well, that's a fine mess he got us into. You don't get to throw your hands up and walk away and then re-emerge and tell your client they're doing it all wrong. Well, unless you got some skin in the game.

Deters has done this before. On the Banks project, the prosecutor's office, then under Mike Allen, recused itself from the matter and legal experts were hired. Deters didn't mind, but that was while under Republican control of the commissioners' office. Then, when Portune and Pepper took control of the commissioner's seat, Deters injected himself right back into the case by going behind the commissioners' back, through a closed-door hearing, to get placed back on the case. That didn't work out too well for him. Deters has a habit of floating in and out of cases at his discretion and depending on his motivations, as reported by City Beat in that case :

Deters long opposed The Banks project in favor of spending the money for law enforcement. By taking over the legal work, he can undermine the project.

All evidence points to Deters' sudden enlightenment on solid waste law as being motivated by something else. Rumpke is a big spender in the political arena. In the last few years, Rumpke, Inc. and its owners have donated close to $200,000 to various candidates. In fact, Rumpke has donated over $24K to political races just in Colerain Township. There's the $16K he donated to 2 candidates, Ulrich and Unger, in order to unseat "Raj" Rajagopal, an incumbent who showed no favor to Rumpke during their recent expansion. However, we found no direct ties between Rumpke and Deters. What we did find was at least $10K was donated by Rumpke's legal counsel's political PAC, just since 2019, including money contributed by Mr. Tepe, their attorney.

Now, Tom Tepe wasn't too happy about the solid waste committee approving rules to regulate his client. However, he came the meeting that afforded Rumpke a 15-minute rebuttal while residents were only given 3 minutes to support the rule. Tepe came unprepared. In fact, it was embarrassing to watch. There was more arrogance in the room than legal knowledge in the field. Bauer respectfully discredited each unfounded assertion made by Tepe. "We just ask that you slow down."

Well, that didn't work.

Enter Joe Deters at the 11th hour, long in the tooth and running short on ethics. Deters has been poking the bear called the Ohio Code of Professional Conduct, lately. Recently, he was called out for ethical lapses in criticizing sitting judges. He admitted, "Somebody's going to report me" (I think he's right. I think he's ready to retire.) Deters knows full well you can't tell your client - the commissioners - you're withdrawing as counsel and pert near, suggesting someone sue you in a public forum. That coud've been done in Executive Session. But, Deters wanted to thumb his nose at the commissioners publicly. Well, when you've had a long, successful career, I guess you earned that gumption. The rule says,

RULE 1.6: CONFIDENTIALITY OF INFORMATION (a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client, including information protected by the attorney-client privilege under applicable law, unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, or the disclosure is permitted by division (b) or required by division (d) of this rule

Deters did that on purpose to humiliate the county commissioners. Like Rumpke's frustrated attorney said during the committee meeting when he realized his legal argument had died flat and the Rumpke name wasn't going to carry the day,

(We're) not subject to the whims of whoever seems to hold a particular seat at this time. ...

Right now, Dumas, Reece, and Driehaus are the county commissioners. They are doing what should have been done 20 years ago and what every other county dumping their garbage on SW Hamilton County already did. That's why they are all dumping their trash on us - we have no rules. These commissioners are not easily intimidated; or gullible. Sure Rumpke is going to sue. You hired the best. Bring it on. These rules won't put the county "in peril," not passing the rule puts us all "in jeopardy".

As Commissioner Stephanie Dumas said, "It's just really odd to me that the prosecutor's office told us to get outside counsel..." Not odd at all. Threats and intimidation are often waged against women.

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