By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Cincinnati, the third largest city in Ohio, sits on a hilly landscape along the Ohio River at the Kentucky border just opposite Covington and Newport.
It’s ice cold temperatures during the winter is only surpassed by the cold-blooded racial history of the Queen City.
Nearly 20 years after a race riot wreaked destruction downtown and many of the city’s already worn neighborhoods, the City Council called for a study to identify practices that might contribute to institutional racism.
What they haven’t addressed is the travesty of a racially- and politically-motivated conviction of Tracie Hunter, Cincinnati’s first African-American female Juvenile Court Judge in Hamilton County’s 110-year history.
Hunter was also the first Democrat to serve in that capacity.
However, on July 22, Hunter is scheduled to begin a six-month jail sentence.
She was convicted for “securing a public contract” – she says that she still doesn’t know what that means.
Shockingly, the jury was mostly comprised of wives of her political foes, and friends, attorneys and neighbors of the prosecutor.
One juror worked for WCPO Television, a station that has filed numerous lawsuits against Hunter.
Another juror was a lawyer who worked at the firm that represented WCPO.
Court documents revealed that the jury foreman contributed $500 to state Sen. Bill Seitz, the father of county jury coordinator Brad Seitz, who was responsible for compiling the panel of jurors.
Three black jurors, none of whom had known ties to prosecutors and all of whom held out for acquittal, ultimately succumbed to pressure by other panelists and a judge who refused to allow defense lawyers to poll the jury after announcing the verdict.
In all American trials, particularly those that end in guilty verdicts, it’s the right of attorneys to request the judge to poll all 12 jurors to ensure each were in agreement with the verdict.
“The judge refused a motion for a retrial after he refused to poll the jury, in clear violation of the law and at the request of my attorney,” Hunter told NNPA Newswire during the annual National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) annual convention in Cincinnati.
Hunter was joined by a large group of supporters sporting black T-shirts imprinted with the logo, “Justice for Judge Tracie Hunter.”
“At the close of the trial, three jurors came forward and said that their finding was ‘not guilty’ and if Judge Norbert Nadel had polled the jury, they would have said so,” Hunter said.
After being convicted on one of 10 counts filed against her, Hunter lost her appeal.
However, she and her supporters were quick to point out that the judge presiding over the appeal was none other than Prosecutor Joe Deters’ mother-in-law, Judge Sylvia Hendon.
Representatives for Deters and Hendon declined to comment to NNPA Newswire.
Hunter, who earned her undergraduate degree from Miami University in 1988 and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1992, won election in 2010, stunning the Republican-led city by defeating GOP contender John Williams.
Williams and the GOP contested Hunter’s victory and a heated court battle and numerous appeals by the Hamilton County Board of Elections which refused to count more than 800 votes from majority Democrat and Black precincts, ensued.
Hunter then filed a federal lawsuit to have those voted counted.
While the court finally ordered those votes to be counted, election officials still certified Williams as the victor.
However, once the votes were counted, the election was overturned in Hunter’s favor.
The 18-month period proved pivotal because then-Gov. John Kasich appointed Williams to the bench and the state Supreme Court changed the rules giving Williams administrative authority over the court.
As the senior judge and the only one elected, Hunter would have received the position of administrative judge.
Still, Hunter worked behind the bench to protect the rights of children including refusing to allow their names and faces to appear in news coverage.
Among other things, she instilled a system that focused on rehabilitation instead of incarceration.
Hunter mandated prosecutors turn over all critical evidence to defense lawyers.
She forced juvenile court to change its entire reporting system; outlawed the routine shackling of juveniles in her courtroom; exposed that juvenile case statistics were being inaccurately reported and falsified to the Ohio Supreme Court; hired African Americans in key positions; reduced default judgments; and spearheaded the change of state election laws which paved the way for ex-felons to vote.
“I also bought in people from outside of Cincinnati who affirmed that shielding these 12-year-old kids faces and preventing their names from being in the media helped to reduce any chance that they’d have a repeat run-in with law enforcement,” Hunter said.
However, the Cincinnati Enquirer and WCPO Television joined Republican county officials in the prosecutors’ and commissioners’ offices in lawsuits challenging Hunter.
“They filed 30 lawsuits in less than 9 months that I was on the bench,” Hunter said.
After serving just 18 months, her enemies found a way to silence her and end her career.
Hunter was charged with theft for using her judicial credit card to appeal the lawsuits filed against her by Deters, the prosecutor.
Now, with her law license suspended and having exhausted any savings and appeals, Hunter is facing jail.
Further frustrating is that Hunter is the lone caregiver to her ailing and aging mother.
Hunter, who’s also a church pastor in Cincinnati, remains buoyed by the support of so many including The Coalition for a Just Hamilton County which is composed of members from the Interdenominational Ministry Alliance; the Cincinnati Chapter of the NAACP; the local chapter of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network; the Black United Front; the Southern Christian Leadership Council; the Nation of Islam and others.
“They’ve tried to stop me from telling my truth and all I have is my truth,” she said, noting that she’s mostly refrained from giving interviews because the local media has only used sound bites to try and embarrass her.
“I’ve lost hope in the justice system which is why I became a judge in the first place,” Hunter said. “I’ve not lost faith in God even though they’ve tried to drive me out of this city even with what the Ku Klux Klan did,” she said, alluding to when the hooded racist group threatened 12-year-olds and their families in front of North College Hill Elementary School after Hunter ruled that their faces and names couldn’t be used in the media.
“There is so much racism, so much nepotism and so much cronyism here in Cincinnati but I just hold on to the belief that the truth shall set you free and I will continue to stand on the truth,” she said.