WCPO wins lawsuit against Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter

Judgment lifts coverage restrictions

WCPO has won its lawsuit against Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter, lifting restrictions she imposed on media coverage in the so-called “boredom beating” case.

The First District Court of Appeals ruled that Hunter's restrictions are unauthorized by law.

Read the judgment below or at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/998579-appeals-court-judgment-in-scripps-vs-judge.html

"A principal obligation of any judicial officer is to 'comply with the law,' including decisional law announced by superior courts," according to the judgment entry filed Dec. 24 by the First District Court of Appeals. The court also ordered Hunter to lift "access orders" no later than Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014.

"Judge Hunter is hereby ordered to vacate each of the Sept. 17, 2012, Feb. 19, 2013, and March 25, 2013, access orders entered in the various North College Hill cases, and to verify her compliance with the writ by providing this court with a certified copy of her entries vacating the access orders no later than Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014," according to the judgment entry.

Hunter’s restrictions were unconstitutional and amounted to prior restraint, Scripps counsel Monica L. Dias of Frost, Brown and Todd told WCPO.

Media seeking to record court proceedings are only required to submit a written request to the judge 24 hours prior to a court proceeding, Dias said, citing the Ohio Supreme Court.

"Nothing in the (Ohio Supreme Court) rules say that the media has to fill out a particular form. Really, all the media has to do is send an e-mail saying, 'We'd like to be there,'" Dias said.

"The media is the representative of the public, and government, democracy thrives in the sunshine, and the judge cannot on a whim decide WCPO will not be allowed to name the defendants, WCPO will not be allowed to photograph the parents ... a judge cannot do that without first having a hearing," Dias said.

View the suit at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/798696-scripps-wcpo-vs-judge-tracie-hunter.html

The “boredom beating” case involved six juveniles charged with felonious assault and aggravated rioting in an attack on a North College Hill man, Pat Mahaney, on Aug. 11, 2012.

According to police, the teens, ages 13 and 14 at the time, said they attacked Mahaney because they were bored and looking for something to do.

Scripps’ counsel said Hunter violated the law “at every turn.”

“Our case basically claims she is imposing unconstitutional conditions,” Dias said.

“She said WCPO can’t publish the names even though they have already been published and they are part of the public record.

“She said WCPO can’t videotape or photograph the juvenile defendants other than below the waist.

“She said WCPO can’t videotape or photograph the juvenile defendants’ parents.

“She has imposed all of these restrictions without following the law. It’s a classic case of prior restraint,” Dias said.

In addition, the suit claimed that three documents the court produced to show that the WCPO had agreed to comply with Hunter’s orders, purportedly signed in handwriting or typewritten, had not been signed by WCPO.

The suit claimed that media representatives and defendants counsel met on Aug 24, 2012 and agreed on conditions for media coverage after some defendants’ attorneys filed motions to close the proceedings.

The suit claimed that Hunter revised the agreement on Sept. 17, 2012 without notifying WCPO. WCPO didn’t learn of the judge’s changes until March 29, 2013, when counsel obtained the orders through a public records request, the suit said.

Hunter’s revisions imposed “significantly more restrictions on access and coverage,” the suit said.

According to the suit, counsel for media and defendants had agreed in August 2012 that media would not broadcast, televise, photograph or record the faces or identifying features (such as tattoos) of defendants when the defendants were in the courtroom.

Likewise, the media would not show the faces of anyone in the spectator area.

The media would be allowed to show the faces of attorneys, courtroom personnel and the judge, but not other individuals at the front of court unless events occurred there that were unique or newsworthy. For example, if a fight broke out, the suit said.

Because the names of the juvenile defendants were public record and had been released to the Cincinnati Enquirer by Cincinnati police, the media were not prohibited for using the names of the defendants or their parents.

There were no restrictions about showing parents, family members or persons other than the defendants in courthouse hallways.

None of these restrictions would apply for other cases or if material changes occurred in the Juvenile Court cases, such as the defendants getting bound over and tried as adults.

Hunter overruled that. According to the suit, her orders said:

“Juvenile Defendants may only be videotaped below the waist. Names of the defendants and their parents are barred from publication or broadcast for all current and future proceedings

regarding this matter. Photographs of the defendants’ parents are prohibited, as it may compromise the safety of the juveniles. If Defendants object at any time, a closure hearing will be conducted. Otherwise, this journalization reflects the policy for all future proceedings in the above referenced matter.

“Seek permission from the prosecutor and defense counsel regarding filming them.”

Furthermore,  Hunter’s orders included a certification agreeing to comply with her term, according to the suit. It said the certification was “purportedly signed by Channel 9 (WCPO) and the signature is typewritten.”

WCPO did not sign the certification and did not type Channel 9 (WCPO) on the signature line, the suit said.

On Feb. 19, 2013, Hunter again ordered more restrictions than the parties agreed to and included a certification agreeing to comply with her terms, according to the suit. It said the certification was “purportedly signed by Channel 9 (WCPO) and the signature is typewritten.”

WCPO did not sign the certification and did not type Channel 9 (WCPO) on the signature line, the suit said.

On March 22, 2013,  WCPO was required to sign another application to cover the trial, the suit said. A WCPO editor signed the application because court personnel told her that WCPO would not be allowed into the courtroom unless it signed, the suit said.

On March 25, 2013, Hunter threatened to bar media from covering “all future courtroom proceedings” if if violated her orders and included a certification of application with a handwritten signature WCPO ABC 9, according to the suit.

WCPO did not sign the certification, the suit said.

Three of the teens, who were 13 to 14 years old at the time of the attack, pleaded guilty to felonious assault in March. Two were sentenced to probation in June. The other case is being tried separately in juvenile court.

The attack put Mahaney in the hospital for four days with internal bleeding.

After Mahaney, 46, died on July 12, 2013, Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco said an autopsy determined that Mahaney succumbed to natural causes unrelated to the beating.

Prosecutor Joe Deters announced he would not file additional charges against the teens.

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