Tracie Hunter's jail sentence delayed again as judge issues seventh continuance

Suspended judge fighting 2014 conviction

CINCINNATI – Tracie Hunter’s case is proof that the wheels of justice turn slowly.

Three years after she was sentenced to jail, the suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge remains free while awaiting a federal judge's ruling on her challenge to her 2014 felony conviction.

For the seventh time, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker issued a continuance in the case Thursday, rescheduling the imposition of her sentence for March 19.

If U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black hasn't ruled by then, there will be an eighth.

Dinkelacker was set to impose Hunter’s six-month jail sentence in May 2016, until Hunter filed a writ of habeas corpus claiming misconduct by special prosecutor Scott Croswell III and errors by Judge Norbert Nadel violated Hunter's constitutional rights during her trial in Common Pleas Court.  Hunter also claimed the appellate court misapplied federal law when it upheld her conviction.

Black ruled that Hunter could remain free until he ruled on her writ.

Hunter was convicted in October 2014 of unlawful interest in a public contract for helping her brother, who worked in the juvenile jail, in a disciplinary hearing. The jury failed to reach a verdict on eight other charges of judicial misconduct and those were later dropped.

Some community leaders and local Democrats saw Hunter's charges, conviction and jail sentence as racially and politically motivated. Hamilton County Democratic chairman Tim Burke called it a  "cause of serious concern" in a community divided by racial issues.

SEE Tracie Hunter timeline, beginning with controversial 2010 election.

"All across the country, serious questions of trust are being raised about the fairness of our justice system in matters involving race," a letter signed by 50 Democrats said. "To sentence to jail the first African-American judge to ever be elected to our Juvenile Court … will only deepen that mistrust."

Hunter's attorneys said she has "serious health issues"  -  including "significant arthritis of the lower back" and "stenosis of the cervical spine" - that would be aggravated in jail.

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

In May 2016, Dinkelacker, who was assigned the case after Nadel retired, ordered her to begin serving her sentence. But Black intervened.

Dinkelacker said he believed Black's decision was an "overreach" of his authority, but also said he would not defy the federal judge.  

In a federal court review that followed, Magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz recommended that Hunter had not proven her case, but that just left everyone awaiting Black's ruling to this day.

Hunter was elected to the bench in 2010, but the Ohio Supreme Court suspended her in January 2014 after she was charged.

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