Friday, December 14, 2001

Former city attorney may testify today

Six council members say buyout not mentioned

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Retired Lebanon city attorney Bill Duning is expected to testify in his defense today against charges he improperly took an early-retirement buyout meant for electric department employees.

        If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison on felony counts of theft in office and unlawful interest in a public contract and on a misdemeanor count of conflict of interest.

        Mr. Duning is the first of four former officials to stand trial in the 2-year-old buyout scandal.

        The prosecution on Thursday ended its case against Mr. Duning with his own words. His testimony before a Warren County grand jury was read aloud.

        According to the transcript, Mr. Duning had just denied a suggestion by Special Prosecutor Patrick Hanley that he'd pressured then-director of electric, Bob Newton, into signing his buyout application.

        Mr. Duning to the grand jury: “He said, "Bill, do you believe you are eligible?' I said, "Yes, I believe I am.'”

        A juror then asked if Mr. Newton was asking Mr. Duning for a legal opinion.

        Mr. Duning responded, “Mr. Newton knew how to ask for a legal opinion; he'd asked for one in the past.” Mr. Duning added that he would not have given a legal opinion about a contract involving himself.

        The prosecution's case rests largely on testimony from six of the seven council members who approved moving money for Mr. Duning's buyout. They testified that they did not know the transfer was for the buyout.

        The transfer ordinance did not mention early-retirement buyouts, and Mr. Duning and former City Auditor Debbie Biggs — also indicted for receiving a buyout — did not mention their financial interest when council voted on the ordinance.

        “I would not have supported the legislation because I did not believe ... he was part of the electric department,” Councilman Ron Pandorf said Thursday.

        Mr. Duning's attorney has tried to shift the blame to city officials and council members.

        “When you cast that vote, you did not know what you were voting on, is that correct?” Mr. Duning's attorney, Jim Perry, asked Lebanon Mayor Amy Brewer, who was a councilwoman in 1999.

        She said yes.

        In the trial's second day, in Warren County Common Pleas Court, Mr. Duning will testify in person in front of visiting Judge George Elliott.


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