Judge Tracie Hunter’s brief tenure as an elected judge in Hamilton County, Ohio was mired in controversy from the start. Her disputed election victory in 2010 was followed by various accusations of misconduct, felony indictments, and eventual conviction on one count related to nepotism. Hunter’s promising judicial career was cut short by legal troubles, despite her supporters rallying behind claims that she was targeted for being the county’s first African-American and Democrat juvenile court judge. This article will trace Hunter’s path from law school to the bench, and examine the controversies that surrounded her short time as judge.
Early Life and Education
Tracie Hunter was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. She completed her undergraduate studies at Miami University, graduating in 1988.
Hunter then went on to earn her Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1992. During law school, she developed an interest in juvenile law and helping underprivileged children.
Legal Career Before Judgship
Work as a Guardian Ad Litem
After graduating law school, Hunter worked as a guardian ad litem for the organization ProKids. In this role, she represented children in court proceedings, serving as an advocate for their best interests. She also gained experience in areas like probate, real estate, and civil rights law.
Opening Her Own Firm
In 1994, Hunter opened her own private law practice. As principal attorney, she handled a range of legal matters including probate, personal injury, and civil rights cases. This experience prepared her for a future career as a judge.
2010 Election and Lawsuit
Running for Juvenile Court Judge
In 2010, Hunter decided to run for an open seat on the Hamilton County Juvenile Court. She campaigned on a platform of improving the county’s juvenile justice system and won the November 2010 election.
Election Dispute and Lawsuit
However, there was a dispute over provisional ballots and Hunter’s opponent contested her narrow victory. This launched an extensive lawsuit over the election results. The legal battle delayed Hunter from taking office until May 2012, nearly 18 months after the election.
Taking Office and Early Controversies
Hunter Finally Sworn In
On May 25, 2012, Hunter was finally sworn in as judge of the Hamilton County Juvenile Court. She was the first Democrat and first African-American to hold this position.
Delays in Rulings
But controversy erupted soon after she took the bench. Hunter started facing complaints and lawsuits over delayed rulings, missing the 120-day deadline imposed by the state Supreme Court in several cases involving the welfare of children.
Dispute Over Court Administrator
Hunter also became embroiled in a public dispute with Judge John M. Williams over control of the court administrator’s office. This clash highlighted early tensions between Hunter and the local legal establishment.
Indictment on Felony Charges
Allegations of Backdating Documents
In September 2013, two special prosecutors were appointed to investigate allegations that documents were illegally backdated in Hunter’s court to prevent appeals. This purported misconduct was the basis for Hunter’s eventual indictment.
Charges Related to Hiring Her Brother
In January 2014, a grand jury indicted Hunter on nine felony counts. The charges included tampering with evidence, forgery, unlawful interest in a public contract, and theft in office. Some charges stemmed from Hunter allegedly hiring her brother at the court.
Immediate Suspension from Bench
Following the indictment, the Ohio Supreme Court immediately suspended Hunter from serving as judge pending resolution of the criminal charges. However, she continued receiving her full $121,350 annual salary.
Criminal Trial and Conviction
Pleads Not Guilty, Awaits Trial
Hunter pleaded not guilty to the charges against her. Leading up to her September 2014 trial, she maintained her innocence and blamed the indictment on political enemies.
Convicted of One Felony Count
After a lengthy trial, the jury convicted Hunter on one count of unlawful interest in a public contract, related to hiring her brother. But the jury deadlocked on the other eight felony charges.
Sentenced to Six Months in Jail
In December 2014, the judge sentenced Hunter to six months in jail for the sole conviction. Hunter remained free while appealing her conviction over the next few years.
Remaining Charges Dropped
Meanwhile, a retrial was scheduled for early 2016 on the deadlocked charges. But prosecutors dropped those counts before the second trial began.
Serving Jail Time Years Later
Ordered to Begin Sentence in 2019
After losing appeals, Hunter was ordered in July 2019 to begin serving her six-month jail sentence from years earlier. Supporters protested her jailing as unfair.
Released After Two Months
However, the county sheriff released Hunter after only two months, in October 2019. The sheriff determined she qualified for early release based on good behavior and work program credit.
Other Legal Issues During Judgeship
Lawsuit for Denying Media Access
In 2013, media outlets sued Hunter for barring them from her courtroom during a juvenile criminal case. Courts ruled this violated free press rights. The Ohio Supreme Court held Hunter in contempt.
More Conflicts with Prosecutors
Hunter also feuded with the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office under Joe Deters. She believed they should not represent her in the media lawsuit due to conflicts. But Deters insisted his office had to represent judges sued in their official capacity.
Short Tenure Marked by Controversies
In the end, Tracie Hunter served just over two years on the juvenile court bench. What should have been a distinguished tenure for the first African-American and Democrat judge instead became a brief and troubled judgeship marked by controversies.
Legal Troubles Cut Short Her Time as Judge
While supporters claimed unfair treatment, the felony conviction related to nepotism effectively ended Hunter’s judicial career. Her promising rise ended abruptly due to legal troubles, overshadowing her time on the juvenile court.
What was Tracie Hunter originally convicted of?
Hunter was convicted of one felony count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract. This related to her hiring of her brother to work at the Hamilton County Juvenile Court.
How long was Tracie Hunter sentenced to jail?
After being convicted of the one felony charge in late 2014, Hunter was sentenced to serve six months in the Hamilton County Justice Center.
When did Tracie Hunter finally go to jail?
Despite appeals, Hunter did not begin serving her six-month jail sentence until July 2019, over four years after her conviction.
How long did Tracie Hunter serve in jail?
Hunter ultimately served around two months in jail before the county sheriff released her early in October 2019.
What controversies surrounded Tracie Hunter?
As judge, Hunter faced controversies including delayed rulings, disputes over the court administrator, indictment on felony charges, lawsuits for denying media courtroom access, and conflict with prosecutors.