After a dramatic day in court, former judge Tracie Hunter was dragged off to jail by a bailiff to serve a 6-month sentence that was imposed more than four years ago.
Hunter, a former Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge, was convicted in October 2014 of a single felony charge, having an unlawful interest in a public contract. It’s related to giving confidential documents to her brother, a juvenile court employee who was in the process of being fired.
The tension built Monday morning throughout a nearly 40-minute hearing in a Hamilton County courtroom packed with supporters of Hunter.
There was a letter read aloud from Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, who had publicly feuded with Hunter when she was a juvenile court judge. Deters, whose office was not involved in Hunter’s case, questioned her mental health.
He asked Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker to consider delaying the 6-month jail sentence that already had been delayed more than four years, so officials could evaluate “her stability to serve jail time.”
One of Hunter’s attorneys, David Singleton, also asked for a delay, saying he intended to file a motion to dismiss her conviction on a single felony charge related to the handling of confidential documents. She hadn’t violated state law, Singleton said.
“We believe it will be profoundly unjust and unfair, and a waste of taxpayer dollars to incarcerate her for one minute,” he said.
The tension increased when Dinkelacker spent several minutes reading from postcards, most of them anonymous, which he said Hunter’s supporters had sent to his home in recent weeks. He’d received 45 postcards.
“At my home,” he emphasized before reading.
The general message was that Dinkelacker should “exonerate” Hunter, who was convicted in 2014 and sentenced in December of that year. She was allowed to remain free as she pursued a series of appeals in both state and federal court.
Several referenced a 2013 fatal crash involving Dinkelacker’s car and another vehicle. Both vehicles struck a woman – who had high levels of cocaine in her system – who was in the middle of a city street.
One said: “Dear Honorable Dinkelacker, remember you killed someone and your privilege got you off. No? I do… How is it you got zero jail time?”
Another, signed Cincinnati Taxpayer, said: “Since you are a killer, maybe doing something right… will help your eternal judgment. Exonerate… former Judge Tracie Hunter. I know you will not, but you will not be able to tell your white Jesus that you were not asked.”
Dinkelacker then read directly from the state’s code of judicial conduct, which says a judge should not be “swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism.”
“If the intent was to intimidate me, in any way,” he said, “that has flat-out failed.”
At one point, Hunter declined to make a statement. But later, after conferring with her attorneys, she stood at a podium, intending to say something. Dinkelacker didn’t allow it, saying the opportunity had passed.
When Dinkelacker decided to impose the 6-month sentence and finally told a courtroom deputy, “You can take her away,” the courtroom exploded in shouting:
“She is not a criminal!”
“This city is going to burn!”
A woman rushed along the courtroom wall, toward the table where Hunter sat. Two deputies restrained the woman.
As that was happening, Hunter stood up and a female, African American deputy approached her. Hunter then allowed her body to go limp in the deputy’s arms.
The deputy, holding Hunter under her arms, then dragged Hunter – both feet dragging along the carpet – out of the courtroom.
Hunter was admitted into the jail at 10:05 a.m., records show. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil said in a news release that Hunter would be housed in the jail’s medical facility and “constantly monitored by security staff and medical professionals.”
Neil said his staff would evaluate Hunter’s eligibility for early release programs.
Also Monday, Deters asked Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to commute Hunter’s 6-month sentence, a surprise move in a day already filled with drama.
A spokeswoman for DeWine confirmed to The Enquirer the two spoke and that DeWine would take a look at it. But Hunter, she said, must apply for a commutation.
State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-North Avondale, a member of Hunter’s inner circle of supporters, said Hunter was prepared for whatever was going to happen.
“She was expecting to do God’s will,” Thomas said.
Hunter had been allowed to remain out of jail while she pursued appeals in both state and federal court. But in May, a federal judge – after overseeing the case for three years without making a decision – said the sentencing can proceed.
In his decision, U.S. District Judge Timothy Black said it was not up to him to determine whether the 6-month sentence was warranted.
“Only the state court can impose or amend a sentence for a state court conviction,” Black wrote.
Dozens of Hunter’s supporters tried a last-ditch effort Thursday to plead for Hamilton County commissioners to use their influence to stop the prosecution, including pulling money for the prosecutor.
They filled the meeting room in Forest Park where the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners met Thursday night.
Hunter’s supporters found the three Democratic county commissioners sympathetic but unable to do anything. County commissioners don’t have the authority to pull the funding or stop a prosecution, Commissioner Todd Portune told the crowd. Portune has supported Hunter and tried unsuccessfully to stop payments for her prosecution.
Hamilton County taxpayers, since 2011, have spent $2 million on Hunter’s court case, according to figures presented by the county Thursday night.
The county commissioners on Thursday said they would take a closer look how that money was spent.
“I hear the fact that we cannot block that funding,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Stephanie Summerow Dumas. “But what we can do is look at the funding and see if it was used appropriately.”
Hunter’s supporters vowed to continue the fight. Victoria Straughn, a Hunter supporter from Kennedy Heights, mentioned the possibility of a boycott of Cincinnati.
“We are ready to take this city back to where it was in 2001 and use the power that our forefathers left for us,” Straughn told the commissioners. “And that is to boycott, to disrupt and do whatever we need to do, especially if she goes to jail.”