FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Supporters believe the first African-American and Democrat juvenile court judge can’t get a fair Trial in Cincinnati
Cincinnati, OH- September 9, 2014—After day one of Judge Tracie Hunter’s trial, supporters are questioning whether she can have a fair trial in Hamilton County, and what it means to have a jury of one’s peers? While there are differing opinions on what constitutes a fair trial, one thing that is for certain is that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that courts may not remove a potential juror based solely on his or her race, religion, or gender.
According to Hunter’s supporters, the potential juror pool in this case appears to have been anything but random, composing of a female employee of WCPO TV, which sued Hunter last year; an attorney from Frost, Brown & Todd, the law firm which represented WCPO in that suit; several jurors who said that they personally know juvenile court administrator Curt Kissinger, a possible witness, who has made public statements against Hunter. Another potential witness said he knows Judge John Williams, the other juvenile court judge. The potential juror said their children attend the same school.
Williams lost the 2010 election to Hunter. Kissinger and Williams have been opposing forces throughout Hunter’s time on the juvenile court. Both are listed as potential witnesses to testify in Hunters trial.
Another potential juror is an employee of Hamilton County treasurers office, which could potentially be questioned concerning credit card transactions, as Hunter has been charged with a felony for using her court issued card to cover costs of court filing fees, after attorneys James Bogen and Firooz Namei, who were paid $50,000 by Hamilton County to represent Hunter failed to file answers to the nearly 30 lawsuits filed against her. WCPO TV, the Cincinnati Enquirer, Hamilton County Public Defenders Office, Hamilton County Prosecutors Office, and the Hamilton County Commissioners Office all filed suits.
One of the alternate jurors says her husband is a Hamilton County Drug Enforcement Agent. She is also a member of the Ski Club and the Women’s Republican club. Party politics are also expected to play a major role in this case.
With a slate of potential jurors with a racial composition of about 10:1, it appears that the jury has been stacked in the prosecutors favor. With help from Judge Norbert Nadel, who dismissed several black jurors for cause, the prosecutor had an added advantage in the jury selection. Between the judge and the special prosecutor, a total of six black potential jurors were dismissed. One black juror was dismissed for cause, when he said that he believed he could not judge another human being.
A for cause dismissal can be made by the judge in the event he believes a person cannot be fair and unbiased or is incapable of serving as a juror. Causes can include acquaintanceship with either of the parties, one of the attorneys or a witness, or the potential juror’s expression of inability to be unbiased due to prior experience in a similar case.
A potential juror was dismissed by presiding Judge Norbert Nadel before the hearing started on Monday morning. According to defense attorney, Clyde Bennett II, “she appeared to be black, from the answers to her questionnaire”. Bennett complained after Nadel dismissed the potential juror before the hearing started, “Judge, I should have had the opportunity to question that juror”.
The special prosecutor used a peremptory challenge to dismiss two additional potential black jurors. One was college educated and said that she felt she could be fair and impartial. The other juror was not directly questioned to the extent that other jurors were.
The question several Hunter supporters is asking is, “how can Judge Hunter get a fair trial when the jury appears to already be stacked to the benefit of the prosecution and with all of the negative press and publicity?”. Four of the initial 12 jurors said that they did not believe that they could be fair and impartial, based upon what they’ve seen in the media. Judge Nadal did not dismiss these jurors for cause, despite this admission.
Prior to beginning jury selection, Attorney Bennett re-entered his previous motion requesting to move the trial outside of Hamilton County, due to prosecutorial vindictiveness. Prosecutor Joseph Deters released a press release, just three days before the trial began, accusing Judge Hunter of being responsible for the deaths of two black boys, who killed each other in mid-August.
One of the boys appeared before Hunter in September of last year. According to juvenile court informants, the nature of his charges were minor and the most he could have served was 6 months for the infraction that came before Judge Hunter’s court. In statements made to the press, Deters suggested that the boy should have been locked up until he was 21. Attorney Bennett believes that this was “a deliberate attempt to taint the potential jury”. He re-introduced his motion to have court proceedings moved from Hamilton County for prosecutor vindictiveness.
Although there is no clear definition of what a jury of ones peers means, this jury is clearly racially unbalanced with 10 white jurors and 2 blacks. Although 4 white potential jurors said that they didn’t’ feel that they could be fair and impartial and admitted they had already formed an opinion after all of the negative publicity they’ve seen on television, Judge Nadel did not dismiss them for cause. The judge dismissed several black jurors for cause, enabling the prosecutor the advantage of retaining his peremptory challenges to attain a jury favorable to the prosecution.
Carol Freas, a white Hunter supporter feels that this jury selection process is a violation of Hunters sixth amendment right to a fair trial, which she believes exists “to balance an unfair judge”. Ms. Freas said, “the jury should represent the community in terms of race, gender, and national origin. With a jury that is 90% white, while in contrast 90% of youth in Hamilton County detention centers are African-American, how can Judge Hunter possibly get a fair trial? This jury pool certainly doesn’t represent the racial composition in Hamilton County, or a jury of Judge Hunter’s peers”.
Freas also noted her concern that the although defense attorney for Judge Hunter requested discovery documents from the State of Ohio and the juvenile court in April 2014, 800 pages of discovery documents were not released to the defense until September 4, only two business days before beginning the trial for Judge Hunter”. Judge Nadel denied Bennett’s motion to suppress the 800 pages, despite Bennett’s contention that he would not have the opportunity to properly prepare for Hunters defense given the late nature of this submission of evidence.
Despite the unclear definition of what would represent a jury of one’s peers, this jury appears to be stacked in the prosecutions favor, leaving many Hunter supporters feeling that it will be impossible for Hunter to get a fair trial in Hamilton County, Ohio. Hunters fate will rest in the hands of a majority white jury in a case where special prosecutors, Merlyn Shiverdecker and Scott Crosswell III, admit will most certainly carry religious and racial undertones. Cincinnati has historically been known to be a racially charged city, with racial unrest and an uprising, which led to the creation of a police/community collaboration in 2001.
Many Hunter supporters complained that they were not allowed in the courtroom on the first two days of jury selection. The last two rows on one side of the courtroom have been reserved for media. Nearly 6 seats in the courtroom have remained empty the entirety of the first two days of jury selection and throughout the pre-trial hearings.
During Tuesday’s court hearing, a white male potential juror who is an employee of the Hamilton County treasurers office accused a black juror of hugging Judge Hunter after the hearing yesterday. Judge Hunter says she did not hug this juror and in fact has never laid eye on her in her life. The juror was dismissed without question. Defense attorney Clyde Bennett said, “Judge Hunter did not hug any of the potential jurors. The jury exited through a different door before Hunter left her seat. The potential juror was dismissed without question. She was part of the initial twelve. Supporters complained that the entire incident was contrived, and suggested that courtroom cameras should have been viewed prior to dismissing the juror.
Another potential juror said he was a distant cousin of Judge Hunter. He was excused along with the remaining potential slate. Judge Hunter said she doesn’t know the potential juror, nor has she ever seen him. The questions lingering in the minds of some supporters are, “what is the selection process, and how did so many people with conflicts of interest and connections to Hamilton County come to be selected?”
Vanessa Enoch, Reporting from Cincinnati
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