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What to know about the Hamilton County prosecutor's race ahead of Election Day

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Fanon Rucker
Posted at 5:01 PM, Oct 30, 2020

CINCINNATI — Election Day will be a rematch, 16 years later, between current Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and former Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Fanon Rucker.

In the 2004 race, Deters, a Republican, defeated Democrat Rucker, who would continue to serve as judge until joining the prosecutor's race again in 2019.

As the days tick down, the candidates are lobbing accusations through new campaign ads to try to win votes.

And although Deters is campaigning on his experience — he has spent a total of more than 20 years as prosecutor — Rucker said there are several things about the prosecutor's office that he would like to change.

“As the prosecutor, I will set the policies not just for one courtroom, but for 30 courtrooms across the county,” said Rucker, who said he wants to end cash bail for some nonviolent offenses.

Bond reform

“My office policy will be that we’ll not ask for bond on non-violent offenses except in very limited circumstances,” Rucker said.

But Deters said he "never heard this outcry for bond reform until Fanon ran for prosecutor."

Rucker said he was a member of a task force established by the Ohio Supreme Court to examine Ohio's bail system. He said ending cash bail for nonviolent offenses that meet certain requirements is a process that has worked in other areas.

“So, my position is not a Fanon Rucker position," Rucker said. "It’s one that our Supreme Court and those who are in leadership across the state in our court system agree with. And now, it’s now the policy that will be enacted across the state."

Defund the police

Deters' new campaign ads say Rucker plans to defund the police, pointing to support Rucker is receiving from the Working Families Party.

“That’s their number one goal is to defund the police and you know, it’s such a short-sighted mistake to do that,” Deters said.

The Working Family Party lists a number of goals as part of its charter, including ending systemic racism. The charter calls for shifting resources away from police, jails and detention centers and toward schools, healthcare and jobs.

“I mean they say well we’ll send social workers out. Really?" Deters said. "14 people were shot down Over-the-Rhine and we’re going to send a bunch of social workers to find out what happened?”

The Fraternal Order of Police endorses Deters, while Rucker said he has worked over the years to form relationships between police and the community.

Rucker called the Deters campaign ad "laughable," and said he's worked with police in the past.

“It’s so incredibly farfetched from number one, who I am, who I’ve been, what they even believe as the person that sat on the bench for 13 years," Rucker said. "As the person who’s been a community leader and helped create initiatives to build relationships between the police and the community."

Clashing over campaign ads

A clash over campaign ads this week centered on one of Deters' spots, which shows rioting and looting, as well as Rucker wearing a hoodie.

Rucker said at a press conference on Friday that the ads intentionally misrepresent him by not showing him in a suit and tie.

"I have never delivered a political speech or position in a hooded sweatshirt," Rucker said. "So why that image?"

Deters said the images were taken from Rucker's social media page. In a written response, Deters said in part:

"Just because someone doesn’t like an ad doesn’t mean it is race-baiting and, frankly, those claiming it is should be ashamed of themselves," Deters said. "This country has serious challenges with systemic racism and those using that term as a dog whistle or buzzword because simply they don’t like something is shameful."

Differences in opinion on the death penalty

When it comes to the death penalty, Deters supports it, and Rucker doesn't.

“It’s not an issue of being against the death penalty itself, it’s an issue about the inconsistency of our system of capital punishment and how it’s meted out,” Rucker said. He said there are cases of innocent people being convicted and sentenced to death. Also, he said death penalty cases are expensive.

"Having someone sit on death row for 20 or 30 years, and die of old age before we actually execute them, for the numbers of appeals, it seems that we can use those resources in a much better way,” Rucker added.

But Deters pointed to the five serial killers he has prosecuted.

"One guy killed 28 people at one of the hospitals here,” he said in reference to serial killer Donald Harvey. “You can’t decide to pick and choose what laws you want to enforce.”

Rucker said his position on the death penalty comes even though he's lost friends to murder.

"I was 15 years old the first time I went to a funeral because one of my friends got shot in the head at school trying to break up a fight," Rucker said. "Yes, I personally understand."

Prosecutor's office operations

While Rucker said he would make changes to the way the Hamilton County Prosecutor's office is run, if elected, Deters said the office has never been better.

“I’ve been here a long time and I’ve never seen this office as good as it is," Deters said. "When you go throughout Ohio, they talk about this office all the time.”

Deters added that the office has a national reputation for how it handles crimes against women.

One difference Rucker would make is being a full-time prosecutor. Deters holds the office part time and keeps an open law practice, which is allowable.

Deters said he spends more than 99 percent of his time as a prosecutor.

“Being a part-time prosecutor is a payroll classification. It has nothing to do with the amount of time I spend on this job,” Deters said. "It’s kind of embarrassing. I probably have two cases.”