FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Juvenile justice advocate and whistleblower judge can’t get a fair trial in Cincinnati, Ohio

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 end the court’s disproportionate minority representation. A practicing attorney for 19 years, Hunter’s proficiency within the court system included criminal and civil representation of children and adults. 

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, including some pro bono services to children who could not afford legal representation for minor offenses when they appeared before the judges who often handed down harsh sentences rather than seeking to rehabilitate.  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 Hamilton County’s African American school aged children to the school-to-prison pipeline. Startling statistics showed that in 2009, before Hunter took the bench, 92.2% of youth incarcerated in Hamilton County were black. Youth of color represent only 17% of the population in Ohio, yet had the misfortune of accounting for 76% of those bound over to the adult justice system.  Youth in adult jails and prisons face a high rate of sexual and physical assault and a tremendous risk of suicide.

Hunter 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 message of compassion reached a wide 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. 

When Judge Hunter entered into the race to fight for the youth of Hamilton County, no one could have predicted that it would take a court battle against the Hamilton County Board of Elections to secure her victory.  Hunter’s voter suppression suit cost taxpayers $2 million dollars after numerous appeals by the Hamilton County Board of Elections and Prosecutor Joe Deters, when they attempted to stop the counting of votes from majority black precincts. In the landmark case against the Hamilton County Board of Elections, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that votes that were disqualified due to poll-worker error had to be counted. Hunter was finally declared the winner of the election and is the first elected African-American and Democrat Juvenile Court 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 a couple of weeks ago, when the prosecutors office refused to turn over discovery evidence, she said, “it has become clear that I cannot get a fair hearing in Hamilton County”. Refusing to comply with a motion for discovery is a violation of Rules 16 and 17 of the Ohio Rules for Criminal Procedure. Judge Norbert Nadel also denied her motion to have her trial moved from Hamilton County.

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.  Deter’s is the same prosecutor who fought against Hunter in her landmark case against Hamilton County Board of Elections, when they attempted to suppress votes in majority black precincts to stop Hunter from attaining her seat. The special prosecutors Shiverdecker and Crosswell, and Judge Nadel, who is presiding over this case all donated to Deter’s campaign for prosecutor.

Crosswell made disparaging remarks about Judge Hunter during pre-trial discovery hearings, alleging that she had “a history of manipulating and trying to game the system”.  Hunter responded by saying “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!”.  Disparaging a judge is a violation of the attorney rules of professional conduct. Judge Nadel did not discipline the attorney’s.

Hunter’s supporters and several civil rights organizations have said that they have requested that the Department of Justice intervene, as they also 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”.  Trial for Judge Hunter starts on September 8th.  Nearly 15 of Judge Hunter’s supporter were not allowed to enter the courtroom for the discovery 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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