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Juvenile justice advocate Blows Whistle on Juvie Ct.: The Statistics

During its 109 years of existence, the Hamilton County Ohio Juvenile Court has operated under the control of the Republican Party.  In 2012, Pastor Tracie Hunter, a public servant and attorney for over 19 years, challenged the Republican controlled Juvenile Court by running for Judge. Hunter wanted to challenge the court’s history of disproportionate minority representation in Hamilton County juvenile justice system. A practicing attorney for 19 years, Hunter’s proficiency within the court system included criminal and civil representation of children and adults who make up the minority population. 

Judge Hunter’s professional life as a pastor and attorney gave her great insight on the injustices committed in the courtroom when she provided legal services. Many of which were pro bono to children who could not afford legal representation for minor offenses when they appeared before the judges who often handed down harsh sentences over rehabilitation.  Judge Hunter realized that she could not continue to be a witness to the broken juvenile justice system in Hamilton County, OH. She observed staggering numbers of youth who entered into a system now identified as the school-to-prison pipeline.

What Judge Hunter witnessed was not just an illusion, but real racial disparities that subjected 80% of African American school aged children to the school-to-prison pipeline. Startling statistics showed that between 2002 and 2004, among black juveniles, 16% of the youth population had the misfortune of accounting for:

  • 28% of juvenile arrest
  • 30% of court referrals
  • 37% of youth placed out of their home
  • 34% of youth waived to adult court, and
  • 58% of youth locked in adult prisons

Hunter is a pastor who is a leading voice within the Cincinnati community. She founded her own urban Gospel radio station and is the CEO of Kingdom Life Ministries, where her compassionate voice reached a wider segment of the minority population impacted by a partial justice system. Judge Hunter’s background as a journalist, broadcaster, and practicing attorney, gave her the skill-set to take on the role of being a change agent for children in Hamilton county.  Her goodwill led her to run for Juvenile Court Judge for Hamilton County, Ohio. 

As Judge Hunter entered into the race to fight for the youth of Hamilton County, Ohio, no one could have predicted that it would take a court battle against the Hamilton County Board of Elections to secure her victory.  Judge Hunter sued the Hamilton County Board of Elections for voter suppression that cost the taxpayers $2 million dollars after numerous appeals by the Hamilton County Board of Elections and Joe Deters who attempted to stop the count of votes. Judge Hunter won her landmark case against the Hamilton County Board of Election where the Sixth Circuit Court ruled that votes that were disqualified due to poll-worker error had to be counted. She was declared winner and is the first elected African-American and Democrat Juvenile Judge in Hamilton County, Ohio.  After a victorious battle, Judge Hunter would finally be able to provide a fair, balanced courtroom, and begin her efforts to reform the broken system and rehabilitate the children who entered her courtroom. However, Judge Hunter would eventually begin fighting for her own freedom as a consequence of exposing numerous violations of civil, constitutional, and human right violations found in the Juvenile Court once she finally took her seat as Judge.

Judge Tracie Hunter became a whistle blower last year, when she began reporting inaccuracies and corruption in the juvenile court system. Judge Hunter spoke out in court Thursday saying, “it has become clear that I cannot get a fair hearing in Hamilton County”. To date, the defense has only received attendance records from the prosecutors office and none of the other documents that were requested in their motion for discovery.

Thursday’s discovery hearing was requested by Hunter’s attorney, Clyde Bennett II, during a previous pretrial hearing on August 6th, after it became apparent that the prosecutor’s office did not intend to turn over discovery evidence.  Assistant prosecutor, Pamela Sears stated that “the court and Mr. Kissinger and staff has spent about 25 hours searching emails to determine which we viewed as relevant and we are done doing that”.  She further concluded that “I got three more supeona’s today, one of which I think we’ve already complied with, the second of which I think we will comply with, and the third of which I have no intention to comply with”.  Refusing to comply with a motion for discovery is a violation of Rules 16 and 17 of the Ohio Rules for Criminal Procedure. 

During the previous pre-trial hearing, on August 6th, Ms. Sears stated that the reason they would not turnover requested discovery is because “there was not enough time”.  Attorney Bennett objected to this claim stating that “these documents were requested months ago”.  According to the Hamilton County Clerk’s website, discovery evidence was first requested by the defense attorney on February 25th.  Special prosecutors filed their motion for discovery on March 20th and the defense attorney turned over documents on that same day.

Hunter’s supporters and several civil rights organizations have said that they have requested that the Department of Justice intervene, as they believe that Judge Hunter cannot get a fair trial in Hamilton County.  So far, they say “there has been no word on whether the Department of Justice plans to get involved in what appears to be a retaliation effort against this whistleblower judge”.

Prosecuting attorney R. Scott Crosswell III stated that “the Defendant in this case has established a history of trying to “manipulate and game the system”.  Crosswell expressed that he “does not believe that the defense’s request for discovery evidence is a fishing expedition”.  Co-council for the prosecution, Merlyn Shiverdecker, followed Crosswell with an explanation of why they felt Judge Hunter was trying to “manipulate and game the system”.  He explained that the defense presented them with thousands of pages of documents that were not presented in chronological order.  He requested that Judge Norbert Nadel require the defense to put the documents in order to make it easier for them to sort through the documents.  Attorney Bennett objected to the request and suggested that the special prosecutor’s “grab a cup of coffee” and roll up their sleeves and get to work the same way he had in preparing for the defense.  In a motion to dismiss the charges against Judge Hunter in a previous pretrial hearing, attorney Bennett said that attorneys Shiverdecker and Crosswell were prosecutor Joseph Deter’s personal attorney’s and were appointed by the the prosecutor and should not be allowed to bring these charges as this presents a conflict of interest in the same way that Deter’s had to recuse himself for a similar conflict of interest.

Nearing the end of the hearing Judge Nadel gave Hunter an opportunity to speak on Crosswell’s claim that she was “gaming the system”.  “I would like to say very clearly to Mr. Croswell that before I am Judge I am a Pastor of a Church, and I take great exception to your disparagement of my name in this courtroom today.  I am not sure about what you meant when you said ‘this defendant is gaming the system’, but let’s be clear here, the only gaming that is going on in Hamilton County is by the Hamilton County Juvenile Court, Judge John Williams, Curt Kissinger, and Connie Murdock….”  Addressing Crosswell directly, Hunter stated “You were very aware and you told my previous defense council that you knew that I did not backdate those documents and you knew that I did not commit theft using my judicial credit card to take care of official court business!”.

Trial for Judge Hunter starts on September 8th.  Nearly 15 of Judge Hunter’s supporter were not allowed to enter the courtroom for Thursday’s hearing, while half the courtroom remained empty.  Supporters say they were told that there was no more room in the courtroom, and when they inquired about why half the seats in the courtroom were empty, they were told that the empty seats were reserved for media.  Only 5 media outlets signed requests for press passes.  This seems to be about average for Hunter’s previous court dates.  For a complete case study, please contact Vanessa Enoch at vanessa.enoch@email.myunion.edu or Cheri Franklin-Scott at cheri.scott@email.myunion.edu.

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Word count: 870 (including title)

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