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Chaos erupts in Cincinnati courtroom as former Judge Tracie Hunter ordered to jail

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After Judge Patrick Dinkelacker ordered Judge Tracie Hunter to begin serving her 6-month sentence immediately on Monday, July 22, she was dragged out of the courtroom although she was not resisting or protesting. Photo by Michael Mitchell/Perspective Image Photography

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter began a six-month jail sentence in the Hamilton County Justice Center Monday after exhausting appeals of her conviction in 2014 of having an unlawful interest in a public contract. She maintains her innocence: “There was no contract.”

The courtroom of Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker erupted in chaos after Dinkelacker ordered her six-month jail sentence, imposed by Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel in 2014, to be executed.

At that moment Hunter stood and appeared to be putting her hands behind her back as deputies approached her. A woman from the gallery ran toward her and her attorneys David Singleton and Jennifer Branch, who were still seated.

A deputy with her arms under Hunter’s shoulders dragged Hunter across the floor and out of the courtroom with her feet dragging. At no time did Hunter resist.

Photo provided

     “THEY DRAGGED her out like a dog,’’ Hunter supporter Velma Sanders would say as she entered the hallway outside the courtroom. “I was crying,” said Latisha Wright. “They dragged her out like a slave.”

Supporters remaining in the courtroom stood and yelled in anger, as Dinkelacker returned to the courtroom until order was restored.

There were more demonstrations outside the Hamilton County Courthouse, and Civil Rights activists said there would be boycotts of conventions and conferences scheduled to be held in Cincinnati and other actions in protest. Plans were being formulated for future actions and visitations schedules for Hunter during a private meeting of supporters Monday afternoon.

DINKELACKER announced the execution of the sentence after listening to comments from Hunter’s legal counsel and from special prosecutor Scott Croswell.

He also read from some of the 45 similar and mostly anonymous postcards he said he had received at his home address in Hunter’s support. He called them an apparent organized intimidation attempt that “flat-out failed.” One message said Dinkelacker would destroy someone who was trying to do the right thing. Many of them mentioned a lawsuit Dinkelacker faced in 2014 regarding the death of a pedestrian. “Thanks for that,’’ he comment, “No other judge should go through what I have gone through,’’ Protestors also demonstrated outside Dinkelacker’s home Monday evening,

Singleton said Hunter was not involved in the postcard campaign.

Hunter had gone to multiple courts to challenge her 2014 conviction and sentence on a felony count of unlawful interest in a public contract, which charged that she provided a confidential document to her brother when he faced a disciplinary hearing in his court job. A federal judge in May upheld the conviction and sentence.

She had stood trial on eight other counts that were dismissed after jurors couldn’t agree on a verdict.

Judge Tracie Hunter (far right) stands with her attorneys (right to left) Jennifer Branch and
David Singleton. Also pictured is Special Prosecutor Scott Coswell. Photo by Dan Yount.

     DEFENSE attorney David Singleton said she has already endured years of uncertainty and lost her job and law license for what he called an unjust conviction and a sentence that is out of proportion.

“We believe it would be profoundly unjust and unfair and a waste of taxpayer dollars to incarcerate her for one minute,” Singleton told the judge. He said she is needed to care for her elderly mother.

Singleton added, “She had gotten up each morning for the last five years not knowing if this is the day she has to go to jail. I know the impact it has had on her.’’

Attorneys for Hunter have contended the case against her was political. Hunter has said Republicans did not want to relinquish the more than 100-year control of the juvenile court system to a Democrat, who is a Black woman who sought reforms in the court. After a disputed 2010 election, Hunter finally took the bench, but raised more opposition for immediately challenging the system.

“She has been punished enough,” Mayor John Cranley, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to Dinkelacker urging against jail time. He said she posed no violent threat to anyone.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, a Republican, wrote to the judge that Hunter has never shown remorse. However, Singleton responded that Hunter had no remorse to show in that she did not commit a crime.

“She has been incredibly disrespectful to you and the justice system,” wrote Deters, who suggested she should undergo a mental evaluation. Both Hunter and her defense disagreed.

CRANLEY, on Monday afternoon, sent a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine, asking that he commute Hunter’s sentence.

Bishop Bobby Hilton, president, Greater Cincinnati Chapter National Action Network, reported on Hunter’s condition Tuesday, saying he visited her in jail Monday evening.

“I discovered her back was injured as she was being dragged out of the courtroom,’’ he said. “Judge Hunter gave me permission to share, again, that she has a fused metal rod in her back due to a very serious automobile accident some years ago.  The rod extends from her hip to her neck.  Judge Hunter never would have intentionally positioned herself to be dragged out of court.  She requested medical assistance three times.  As of the time my visit ended, no one had responded or checked on her.  She is in 23-hour-a-day isolation.  I assume this is for her protection.  However, she does not have access to a phone and was not allowed to get to a phone to call her attorneys. Please keep Judge Hunter in your prayers.’’

     GWEN MCFARLIN, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairwoman, said, “A grave injustice occurred this morning in the Hamilton County Courthouse. The latest chapter in the political vendetta against Tracie Hunter leaves many questioning the motives and fairness of figures within our local justice system. Incarcerating Judge Hunter makes no sense in the context of the last five years. Since her conviction by the court in 2014, Judge Hunter has caused no harm to society, followed the directive of the courts to report as required, has done extensive work benefitting local communities through her church and personal volunteer work, and worked extensively to care for her aging mother.

“Dragging her into a cell in the Hamilton County Justice Center, when she is neither dangerous nor violent, is unjust and serves as a further example of the need for criminal justice reform in our local courthouse. At this point, the incarceration of someone who is both non-violent and not a threat to society is beyond the scope of what a system truly committed to justice would prescribe. It is also a heartbreaking day for Judge Hunter’s family, friends, and unwavering supporters that have stood firm by her side for the last five years.’’

One woman, who did not want to be identified, said, “The roar in that courtroom was powerful. We are in a bigger fight than we can comprehend. They have the whole city of Cincinnati held in bondage, and we are supposed to be free. It’s about all of us, for we are sitting in that jail cell with Tracie. They have her locked up. I feel the pain. This is heavy. We can let it go. We have to act.’’

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