Judge dismisses Tracie Hunter's federal lawsuit against Hamilton County leaders

Posted at 4:33 PM, Sep 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-20 07:54:00-04

CINCINNATI -- It just wasn't Tracie Hunter's week.

Last Tuesday, the Hamilton County Board of Elections voted unanimously that the suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge was ineligible to run for office again as a write-in candidate this November.

And two days later, a federal judge dismissed Hunter's case against Hamilton County leaders and attorneys who she accused of violating her civil rights.

Two years 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 53-page civil complaint, filed in August 2015, named 19 defendants who she argued caused her to receive an unfair trial. Defendants in the suit included Prosecutor Joe Deters, Juvenile Court Judge John Williams, Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Curt Kissinger, Court of Appeal judges, retired Judge Norbert Nadel and a list of court administrators and attorneys.

U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett granted the defendants' motions to dismiss the case in a one-page decision issued Thursday and terminated it from his docket.

Hunter said she had no comment on the decision.

Nadel had sentenced Hunter to serve six months in jail, but she's remained free thanks to a stay of sentence issued by U.S. District Judge Timothy Black in May. The Ohio Supreme Court suspended her in January 2014 when she was indicted, and she lost her pay when she was convicted that October.

After last week's decision that she couldn't run for office, Hunter called the Board of Elections hearing a "formality" and told reporters she might pursue legal action.


Hunter also said she believed the Board of Elections was denying her rights.

"The fact of the matter is that the Ohio Revised Code, one, qualifies me as an elector, and number two, qualifies me to run for re-election for the seat that I still hold as the Hamilton County juvenile court judge," Hunter said.

Hunter's supporters have argued she has been the victim of political persecution by the Republican prosecutor and county machine since she ran for the bench in 2010. She lost the initial vote count that year to Republican John Williams, but then sued to have hundreds of provisional votes counted. It took a year and a half – after Republican challenges by the local Board of Elections and Ohio secretary of state – before a federal judge ruled in Hunter's favor, and those disputed votes elected her.

After she finally took the bench in 2012, Hunter and Republicans had nasty battles over everything -- from who got the bigger courtroom to who should be the presiding judge, from the county refusing to hire her friend to be her own court administrator to balking at paying for private attorneys for her, from Hunter holding an assistant prosecutor in contempt to objections to her long delayed rulings.

Hunter's indictment accused her 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 giving him documents related to his upcoming disciplinary hearing and arranging for him to get extra work hours.

On the next day, Hunter sent an email to the juvenile court staff saying the county "was not ready for its first African-American Democrat judge." She added: "I understand many of the changes I made or was in the process of making were not always welcome.

"Change is difficult for most people, especially after 110 years."

But Nadel, the trial judge, insisted the trial was fair – if "extraordinary."

"Any problem that could happen sort of happened in this case," Nadel said.