Tracie Hunter's jail sentence delayed again

Posted at 6:23 PM, May 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-20 06:55:10-04

CINCINNATI – Tracie Hunter will not have to start her 60-day jail sentence Friday after all.

The attorneys for the suspended juvenile court judge won another stay in U.S. District Court Thursday after filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Federal Judge Timothy Black ruled that Hunter could remain free during those proceedings, trial attorney David Singleton posted on Facebook Thursday evening.

The petition, filed by Singleton and co-counsel Jennifer Branch, claims misconduct by special prosecutor Scott Croswell III and errors by Judge Norbert Nadel violated Hunter's constitutional rights during her trial in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in October 2014.  They also claim the appellate court misapplied federal law when it upheld her conviction on a felony charge.

READ the petition here or below.

Hunter's attorneys want the federal judge to release her from the control of Common Pleas Court. Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker, who assumed Hunter's case, will argue for the state. Dinkelacker took the Hunter case after Nadel left the bench due to state age limits.

Nineteen months ago, a jury hearing nine counts of judicial misconduct against Hunter convicted her of one - unlawful interest in a public contract -  for helping her brother, a county employee, in a disciplinary hearing. The jury did not reach a unanimous decision on the other counts, and they were dismissed in January.

Hunter's attorneys claim Croswell engaged in 51 instances of misconduct during the rebuttal closing and they listed them in their petition. The attorneys said Croswell's mention of the "bored beating case" was an irrelevant and inflammatory remark designed to prejudice the jury against Hunter. The case involved six juveniles who said they beat up a North College Hill man because they were bored. Hunter had refused courtroom and documents to the media.

In another example, the attorneys claimed the prosecutor promised the jury he would not seek jail time for Hunter - "a pledge that could have persuaded some jurors to vote to convict her." But after Hunter was convicted,  he urged Nadel to impose "a substantial prison sentence."

In summary, Hunter attorney's claimed the misconduct included irrelevant and inflammatory language, personal opinions and appeals to community pressure, impugning the defense, enlisting unsworn statements as evidence, insinuating belief in the defendant's guilt and burden shifting.

Earlier in the day, Hunter's attorneys went to federal court asking for a stay of sentence, citing Hunter's back problems and unfavorable jail conditions in a last-ditch appeal to avoid the Justice Center.

READ the motion here or below.

The Ohio Supreme Court had stayed Hunter's sentence for nearly 17 months while she appealed. But when the state high court voted 4-3 Tuesday not to hear her appeal, that stay expired. 

Hunter has "serious health issues stemming from a car accident when she was a student at Miami University," Singleton and Branch said in the filing. "She is currently under the care of several local doctors. According to her treating physician,  [Hunter] has metal rods in her back, suffers from 'significant arthritis of the lower back' and has stenosis of the cervical spine."

A 2014 letter from Dr. Juanita Ramona Gaines detailing Hunter's condition was included in the motion.

"As a result of [Hunter's] condition, Dr. Gaines 'cautioned against' [Hunter] 'being in an environment where she would not be free to see the orthopedic specialist and go for physical therapy,'" according to Hunter's attorneys.

Hunter faces the prospect of "aggravating her medical condition," in jail, the motion says. Furthermore, Hunter's former position requires that she be isolated from other inmates for her safety, the attorneys said.

The motion included a 2014 memo from the jail administrator, Major Charmaine McGuffey, that says the jail struggles with overcrowding and lists two options for housing Hunter in order to "protect (her) adequately:" Put her in an eight-bed pod by herself and “empty the unit of other inmates” or put her in a special lockdown unit where “she would potentially be spending 23 hours a day inside her cell.”

The attorneys said "the second option, which is normally reserved for inmates who pose discipline problems, would be extreme given the severe isolation [Hunter] would have to experience."

The motion calls on the federal court to right the wrongs the attorneys perceived in Common Pleas Court.  It says "a sizable segment of the community believes that [Hunter] did not receive a fair trial and was prosecuted for political reasons.

"This case presents an opportunity for the Court to restore lost confidence in the justice system by giving [Hunter] a fair opportunity to be heard in federal court - a venue that the community trusts as being above local politics - before she is put in jail," Hunter's attorneys said.

Hunter's conviction was based on testimony from her brother and his attorney.

Hunter's brother testified that the judge gave him private court documents before his hearing. His attorney testified that she refused to accept some of the documents from Hunter's brother, saying it would have been "unethical" coming from a judge.

The jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on eight others counts of backdating court documents to prevent prosecutors from appealing her rulings, misusing a court credit card to pay for legal filings in lawsuits against her, and illegally helping her brother by arranging for him to get extra work hours.

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