Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Top lawyer for city suspended


30-year veteran helped with taxpayer lawsuit

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A top lawyer in the Cincinnati Solicitor's Office was suspended Monday in connection with his role in filing a taxpayer lawsuit against the city.

Ely M.T. Ryder, a 30-year veteran of the solicitor's office, was one of eight members of the Cincinnati Retirement System Board of Trustees who sued the city last month.

The trustees claim that the system is entitled to part of the $54 million windfall the city received when its health insurer, Anthem Inc., issued stock last year.

"I have reason to believe he has breached his ethical and fiduciary responsibility to this office," said Solicitor J. Rita McNeil.

Records released by the city Monday show a letter from Ryder to a Boston lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the taxpayer lawsuit.

In it, Ryder passed along communication between an assistant city solicitor representing the retirement system and a lawyer for Squire, Sanders & Dempsey working for the city on the Anthem issue.

"I'm not sure I'm supposed to have all the correspondence," Ryder wrote, "so let's not disclose that we have it for the while."

McNeil says that information was attorney-client privileged.

But Mark Vander Laan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the taxpayer lawsuit, said Ryder was entitled to the information and had access to it as a trustee of the retirement system, and thus broke no ethical rules.

Also in dispute: whether Ryder is entitled to protection under a city "whistleblower" statute.

City Council has earmarked the $54 million in Anthem proceeds to neighborhood revitalization efforts.

The lawsuit outraged some members of City Council, who blasted the solicitor's office at last Wednesday's council meeting.

After the lawsuit was filed, McNeil moved Ryder to the Department of Buildings & Inspections. Monday, she put him on administrative leave until 9 a.m. Wednesday.

It's unclear what happens Wednesday, but Ryder is eligible to retire. He did not return a call placed to his home Monday.

Mayor Charlie Luken, a longtime critic of the solicitor's office, said the solicitor's action in suspending Ryder appears to be appropriate.

"We have a long tradition in the solicitor's office of allowing lawyers to bite the hand that feeds them, with impunity," Luken said.

"This seems to have violated our already low standards."

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com




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