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Tracie Hunter timeline: Conflict follows judge from election to trial to present

Posted at 8:30 AM, Sep 29, 2014
and last updated 2017-07-10 16:42:27-04

A timeline of Tracie Hunter's triumphs, trials and tribulations from the election of 2010 to her trial in 2014 to the present:

Nov. 2, 2010: Hunter, a Democrat, loses the election to Republican John Williams, and a 1½-year dispute ensues. The unofficial election night count has Williams winning by 2,847 votes. After provisional ballots are counted, Williams' margin shrinks to 23 votes. Hunter sues in federal court to have another 849 provisional ballots counted. The Board of Election claims those people voted in the wrong precinct and that invalidates their ballot under Ohio law. Hunter claims 284 voters went to the right polling place, but poll workers erred in sending them to the wrong precinct table.

Judge Tracie Hunter, left, and her attorney, Clyde Bennett III, exchange a private word during courtroom proceedings, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, in Cincinnati. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

Nov. 23, 2010:  Federal judge Susan Dlott rules that Williams can't take office until the provisional ballots issue is investigated and resolved. It's unusual for a federal judge to take sides in a state election, but Dlott declares no voter could be disenfranchised because of poll worker error. She orders that any rejected ballots resulting from poll worker error be counted in the mandatory, automatic recount.

Nov. 24, 2010: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stays Dlott's order at Williams' request.

Dec. 2, 2010: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts the temporary stay on Dlott's order.

Jan. 7, 2011: In her last day on the job, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, orders the Board of Election to count 137 ballots that appear to have been disqualified due to poll worker error.

Jan. 10, 2011: In his first day on the job, new Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, orders the Board of Election to not count any provisional votes and to certify Williams as the winner. Husted says a federal judge can't tell Ohio how to run its elections. His ruling echoes one by the Ohio Supreme Court three days earlier.

PHOTOS: See a gallery from Tracie Hunter's trial

Jan. 12, 2011: Dlott orders the Board of Elections to count more than 150 of the disputed ballots because they appear to have been cast at the wrong precinct table due to poll worker error.

Jan. 14, 2011: Tempers flare among spectators during a heated meeting at the Board of Elections over how to resolve the issue. The board split its vote 2-2 on whether to appeal Dlott's ruling. Several people stand toe-to-toe and point fingers at each other,  loudly arguing their positions. Others step between them and the meeting is adjourned. Hunter says people before her have waited a long time for their rights, so she’s willing to be patient. Later, Husted breaks the tie and the board appeals Dlott's ruling.

Jan. 18, 2011: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agrees to hear the case and orders the Board of Elections not to certify a winner of the race by the state's Jan. 22 deadline and to wait for the appeals court to rule.

Jan. 28, 2011: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals orders the Board of Elections to count any ballot that was set aside because poll workers sent voters to the wrong precinct table. The three judges leave it up to Dlott to determine how election officials should investigate the disputed ballots and decide whether poll workers were at fault.

March 29, 2011: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals refuses to hear another appeal from the Board of Elections. Dlott rules that 270 votes were cast at the right polling place but the wrong precinct table. Most of those were in heavily Democratic precincts.

Tracie Hunter

April 4, 2011: The Board of Elections decides to appeal to U.S. Supreme Court. Later, the high court declines to hear the case and sends it back to Dlott.

July 18, 2011: Dlott begins hearing the case in federal court. The trial lasts three weeks. She doesn't rule for more than six months.

Nov. 10, 2011: Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, appoints Williams to the juvenile court, replacing retiring judge Karla Grady. That guarantees Williams will be the senior judge, requiring the junior judge to acquiesce to him on administrative matters. It also lets Williams choose the best courtroom.

Feb. 8, 2012: A year after the Board of Elections appealed, Dlott orders contested ballots to be counted.

April 27, 2012: The votes are counted and Hunter is declared winner of the 2010 election over Williams by 74 votes.

May, 2012: A year and a half after the election, Hunter takes office alongside Williams in juvenile court.

Sept., 2012 – Hunter gets the "bored beating" case of six teens who said they attacked a North College Hill man, Pat Mahaney, because they were bored and looking for something to do. Hunter puts all six on house arrest. After the Cincinnati Enquirer publishes the boys' names, Hunter bars the Enquirer from courtroom proceedings in that case. Later, the Enquirer sues. The First District Court of Appeals orders Hunter to allow the Enquirer in her court, but she refuses.

Oct. 15, 2012: Hunter files a court order requiring the county to hire a friend of hers as Hunter's own court administrator at a salary of $107,000. Hunter claims the juvenile court administrator, Curt Kissinger,  "performs his duties at the pleasure of John Williams." Hunter says Williams interfered in her attempts to discipline Kissinger. A few days later, the county sues Hunter. A day after that, the county drops the suit and Hunter's court administrator never materializes.

Nov. 9, 2012: On appeal from Hunter, the Ohio Supreme Court reasserts that Williams should be the presiding judge in juvenile court because he took the bench earlier.

Feb. 27, 2013: The First District Court of Appeals court overturns Hunter's decision to drop aggravated robbery charges against a juvenile, saying she didn't follow the law.

Judge Tracie Hunter exits the courtroom following the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

April 19, 2013: WCPO sues Hunter over broad restrictions she imposes in the coverage of the "bored beating" case. The suit claims her restrictions are unconstitutional. In addition, the suit claims that three documents the court produced to show that WCPO had agreed to comply with Hunter’s orders, purportedly signed in handwriting or typewritten, had not been signed by WCPO.

April 22, 2013: Hunter announces that juvenile defendants will no longer be routinely shackled in her courtroom, ending a practice of more than 20 years. Hunter said she believes the blanket policy of shackling juveniles is not in the best interest of children and contrary to evidence-based best practices. Hunter’s order permits the use of shackles only in cases where it is shown that the juvenile is a danger to him/herself or to the public or a risk to attempt escape.

April 26, 2013: Hunter asks county commissioners to allow her to hire a private attorney at taxpayer expense to defend her in lawsuits by WCPO and the Enquirer over access to her court. Hunter's suit says county prosecutors are biased against her.

May 1, 2013: Hunter holds assistant county prosecutor Charles Lippert in contempt because Lippert asked to speak to his boss after Hunter demanded he turn over reports to the defense. A state court had ruled that the reports did not need to be turned over the defense. Later, Hunter withdrew the contempt charge.

May 6, 2013: Hunter names three private attorneys to represent her in a lawsuit filed by WCPO. The attorneys say they are taking Hunter's case pro bono. Deters, whose office is supposed to represent Hunter, says she has no authority to name her own lawyers and she must either use attorneys from the prosecutor’s office or have his office secure her counsel. Later, the First District Court of Appeals concurs with Deters. Deters says Hunter has refused to talk to his office about the case.

May 9, 2013: Williams, the presiding juvenile court judge, sends a letter to Hunter noting she has about 75 unresolved cases beyond the 120-day limit set by the Ohio Supreme Court.

May 20, 2013: Hunter has told the county prosecutor's office she no longer wants it to represent her in lawsuits by WCPO and the Enquirer, according to court documents filed by the prosecutor's office.

May 29, 2013: Thirty Hunter supporters attend a county commissioners meeting and complain that the county is guilty of injustice and disrespect toward Hunter. They call Williams' courtroom a "palace" and Hunter's "a dump." They demand the county upgrade Hunter's courtroom and appoint a court administrator approved by both judges.

June, 2013: Hunter sentences two of the six defendants (ages 13 and 14) in the "bored beating" case to probation until they are 21, plus 500 hours of community service and 10 job details. Five of the six take a plea deal. She delays sentencing on three others while she reviews their psychological reports.The sixth awaits trial.

July 12, 2013: The "bored beating" victim, Pat Mahaney, dies. After an autopsy rules he died from liver disease, not the beating, prosecutor Joe Deters announces he will not file additional charges against the teens.

July 23, 2013: The First District Court of Appeals finds Hunter in contempt for continuing to bar the Enquirer.

Aug. 8, 2013: Public defender Ray Faller sues Hunter over 13 delayed cases in her court, saying Hunter failed to rule within the 120-day limit set by the Ohio Supreme Court. Faller claims the delay interferes with attempts to place children in homes, finalize adoption or resolve charges.

Aug. 15, 2013: Hunter asks federal judge Dlott to award her $170,000 in back pay and the status of presiding judge in juvenile court, claiming she was entitled to them had her 2010 election victory not taken 18 months to resolve.  Dlott denies Hunter's request, ruling it was filed too late.

Aug. 16, 2013: Hunter's brother; Stephen Hunter, is fired from his job as juvenile jailer for punching a 15-year-old inmate in the face. The incident happened July 7. He was fired after a disciplinary hearing. Stephen Hunter had been hired by Williams in January, 2012, before his sister took office as juvenile judge.

Aug. 26, 2013: Deters says his office will no longer represent Hunter after she filed grievances against him and three of his attorneys with the Ohio Supreme Court. That allows Hunter to hire her own attorneys as she wanted. Deters says Hunter accused him of slandering her. “I don't know what she's talking about," he says. Hunter says Deters is trying to defame her. "It is disturbing that an individual who has never personally, nor professionally met me, continues to make dishonest, inflammatory statements about me in a public forum, calculated to fuel hatred," Hunter says in a statement.

Sept. 13, 2013: Assistant county prosecutor Bill Breyer says Hunter or someone directed by her may have committed a crime by backdating documents in her court. Following an investigation, Breyer says the company that operates the software in juvenile court determined that two documents filed and signed by Hunter were not created until weeks after they are dated. In both case, the backdating prevented prosecutors from appealing Hunter's  rulings, Breyer says.

Sept. 23, 2013: Two special prosecutors, Scott Croswell and Merlyn Shiverdecker, are appointed to investigate the backdating allegations.

Oct., 2013: The Ohio Supreme Court appoints Thomas Lipps a special judge to help clear the backlog of cases in juvenile court.

Nov. 8, 2013: Hunter's father dies. She takes bereavement leave and returns Nov. 21.

Nov. 21, 2013: Hunter is treated at a hospital and released. WCPO sources say she had a panic attack. She faced a Nov. 22 deadline set by the First District Court of Appeals to rule on a backlog of cases. She asked that court for anextension but the court denied it.

Tracie Hunter wheeled out of court after passing out on Dec. 3, 2013

Dec. 3, 2013: Hunter passes out in court and an ambulance takes her to a hospital. A day earlier, she had appealed the appeals court ruling on her backlog to the Ohio Supreme Court. A Hunter supporter, Cecil Thomas, tells WCPO he thinks her recent hospital visits are related to stress. "When you read all that's being written, it can wear on you," Thomas says.

Dec. 22, 2013: The Ohio Supreme Court finds Hunter in contempt for barring the Enquirer from her court after  the First District Court of Appeals ordered her to admit them.

Dec. 24, 2013: WCPO wins its lawsuit against Hunter. The First District Court of Appeals rules that Hunter's restrictions on media coverage in the "bored beating" case  are unauthorized by law. Read the judgment.

Jan. 10, 2014: Hunter is indicted on eight felony charges. She is accused of forgery, 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.

Jan. 10, 2014: On the day of her indictment, Hunter sends an email to the juvenile court staff saying the county “was not ready for its first African-American Democrat judge.” She adds: "I understand many of the changes I made or was in the process of making were not always welcome." Hunter says she has “learned and understand that change is difficult for most people, especially after 110 years.” The email is titled, “Thank you and goodbye for now.”

Jan. 10, 2014: Hunter is suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court until her case is resolved. She continues to be paid at her annual salary of $121,350.

Jan. 11, 2014: Two hundred people attend a rally for Hunter at a Forest Park church. Her supporters claim she is a target of a political vendetta by county Republicans.

Jan. 14, 2014: Hunter is indicted on a ninth felony charge of theft for allegedly using her county credit card for non-travel purposes. With the additional charge, Hunter now face a maximum sentence of 13 years in prison.

Tracie Hunter leaves her arraignment on Jan. 17, 2014

Jan. 17, 2014: Hunter appears at her arraignment but doesn't speak. Her attorney enters her not-guilty pleas. She is freed on her own recognizance.

Feb. 13, 2004: Judge Sylvia Hendon, handling some of Hunter's cases, passes sentence on three juveniles in the "bored-beating" case. She sends one to a state mental health facility for juveniles for a year and two to Rite of Passage (formerly Hillcrest school), a secured school and residential facility, for nine months.

May 2, 2014: Hendon sentences the last of the six teens in the bored beating case to probation and a mental health diagnostic program. The final result: None of the six goes to juvenile prison. Five get probation. One goes to a mental health facility.

June 5, 2014: Hunter's attorney, Clyde Bennett II, claims the two special prosecutors, Croswell and Shiverdecker, are too close to Deters because they represented him in a criminal investigation and asks that charges against Hunter be dropped. No charges were filed against Deters.

Aug. 14, 2014:  Hunter lashes out at Williams, her election opponent, during a court hearing after prosecutors claim she was "gaming the system" by not providing documents during discovery. "I take great exception to your disparagement of my name in this courtroom today. I'm not sure what you meant by the term that 'this defendant is gaming the system,' but let's be clear, the only gaming that is going on in Hamilton County is by the Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge John Williams the last nine months."

Aug. 24, 2014: Four days before Hunter's trial, prosecutor Joe Deters blames two shooting deaths on  Hunter. An 18-year-old who was accused of murder and the man he allegedly shot may be alive today if Hunter had put the gunman behind bars as prosecutors recommended, Deters said in a statement. Police say Tywaun Thomas, 18,  shot and killed 21-year-old Antwon Ward on Aug. 19   in Avondale. Thomas was shot by another suspect and died the next day. Deters said Thomas had 36 convictions when he went before Hunter for sentencing last October on a charge of aggravated drug trafficking involving heroin. Hunter sentenced Thomas to out-patient treatment, school and work and placed him on electronic monitoring, Deters said. "Judge Hunter has consistently said that she is doing this, 'for the children,'" said Deters. "Well, now we have a dead one.”

Sept. 8, 2014: Before jury selection, Hunter's attorney asks Judge Norbert Nadel for a change of venue, claiming Hunter can't get a fair trial because of heavy pre-trial publicity. Nadel declines. A jury is seated with two men and 10 women. Three are African-Americans. The nine counts charge that Hunter committed theft in office by charging $1,100 in unauthorized filing fees on her county credit card, committed forgery and tampered with evidence by signing backdated judicial entries to give the defense an edge and to prevent prosecutors from filing appeals, provided private court documents to her brother - a juvenile court jailer - before his disciplinary hearing, and unlawfully arranged for her brother to work  6 1/2 hours of overtime overseeing security around her courtroom.

Sept. 10, 2014: Before opening statements, Hunter steps up to the podium and asks Nadel to step down, saying she doesn't think Nadel can be fair. "I just wanted to put on the record that I would like to make an oral motion to remove yourself as judge from this case, because I do not believe you can rule impartially and fairly. I just wanted that for the record," Hunter said. Nadel refuses.

Stephen Hunter points to identify his sister, suspended juvenile court Judge Tracie Hunter, during her trial on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

Sept. 24-26, 2014: It's the third week of Hunter's trial and her brother and his attorney drop bombshells with their testimony.  Hunter's brother, Stephen Hunter, who worked in the juvenile jail but was fired for punching an inmate, was only on the stand for about three minutes but gave the most damaging testimony so far against Hunter. He testified that the judge gave him private court documents before his disciplinary hearing  - including the inmate's medical records. Two days later, his attorney, Janaya Trotter, testified that she refused to accept some of the documents from Hunter's brother, saying it would have been "unethical" coming from a judge. One of the nine felony charges against the judge accuses her of using her position to illegally help her brother.

Oct. 11, 2014: The jury comes out of the deliberations room and tells Nadel they have a verdict on Count 6 -  unlawful interest in a public contract - but they're deadlocked on the others. Nadel asks the jury if the verdict in the envelope is their verdict, then he seals it, tells them not to discuss it with anyone and to come back on Tuesday - after Columbus Day - and try to reach a verdict on the other counts.

Oct. 14, 2014: The jury finds Hunter guilty on Count 6, but it's hung on the other counts. The one guilty verdict could send Hunter to jail and permanently disqualify her from the bench. Nadel said he would consider jail time for Hunter, saying Hunter's conduct "dealt a serious blow to public confidence in our system of justice. "It's a sad day," Nadel said as he reprimanded Hunter after reading the verdict. "I believe the evidence showed serious ethical violations which included, among others: nepotism, improper judicial temperament, tardiness in rendering decisions and denying public access to your courtroom," Nadel said. "Since ascending to the bench, Judge Hunter has gone from great role model to convicted felon."

Oct. 21, 2014: The Ohio Supreme Court suspends Hunter's law license. because of her conviction. She also loses her salary: $121,350 a year.

Oct. 31, 2014: One by one, the three black jurors recant their guilty votes on Count 6 and claim the jury forewoman intimidated them into voting to convict Hunter. The third juror, like the other two, swears in an affidavit that she would have renounced her guilty vote if the judge had polled the jurors individually when the verdict was read, attorney Clyde Bennett II said. He filed a motion for a new trial on Oct. 22 based on similar sworn claims by the other two black jurors. Bennett's motion claims Nadel made a prejudicial error by refusing Bennett's request to poll the jury after the verdict was read. At the time, Nadel said it wasn't necessary because he had polled the jury four days earlier when the verdict was sealed. The third juror, like the others, said there were "racial overtones" during deliberations, Bennett said.

Nov. 17, 2014: Hunter's attorney files a new motion that claims the jury forewoman lied in the jury selection. Bennett says the forewoman falsely answered no when asked if she had ever been the victim of a crime. It alleges she was sexually abused by a priest when she was a teen and has "bias against the church." That's relevant, he says, because Hunter is a minister.

Nov, 20, 2014 and Dec. 4, 2014: Nadel rejects motions for a new trial on the black jurors' votes and on the jury forewoman.

Dec. 5. 2014: Nadel sentences Hunter to six months in the Justice Center starting Dec. 29, plus one year of community control sanctions and court costs. Nevertheless, Hunter was all smiles as she left the courtroom, as usual.  "She's a remarkable woman.  She's a woman of faith. She's strong right now,'' Bennett said. Hunter spent a lot of time at the hearing with her head down, reading her bible. "She told me, 'To God be the glory,'' Bennett said. A total of 18 character witnesses for Hunter pleaded with Nadel for three hours to spare her jail time. But Nadel said  the evidence showed that "the criminal conduct of Tracie Hunter has dealt a very serious blow to public confidence in our judicial system."

Dec. 9, 2014: Nadel announces he won't stay Hunter's sentence, and that brings strong criticism from Hamilton County Democrats. Chairman Tim Burke called it a  "cause of serious concern" in a community divided by racial issues. Burke released a letter to Nadel endorsed by 56 Democrats asking the judge to delay Hunter's sentence pending appeal. "All across the country, serious questions of trust are being raised about the fairness of our justice system in matters involving race," the letter says. "To sentence to jail the first African-American judge to ever be elected to our Juvenile Court … will only deepen that mistrust."

Dec. 26, 2014: The Ohio Supreme Court stays Hunter's sentence while she appeals.

Jan. 23, 2015: Prosecutor Joe Deters says the special prosecutors plan to retry Hunter on the eight hung-jury counts, and the new trial could cost taxpayers as mush as $1 million. That's in addition to the estimated $1.5 million in legal costs for prosecuting and defending Hunter over the years. Bennett asks Judge Patrick Dinkelacker, who has replaced the retired Nadel on the bench, to disqualify himself because he was part of the 1st District Court of Appeals that ruled against Hunter. Dinkelacker refuses.

March 25, 2015: County Commissioner Todd Portune, a Democrat, says retrying Hunter is a waste of money. Hunter and about 15 supporters went to the county commission meeting to protest the prosecutor's insistence. "We are spending a million dollars to continue the persecution -- and I say 'persecution,' not 'prosecution' -- of this lady," Bishop Bobby Hilton said.

April 17, 2015: The Ohio Supreme Court rules against a motion from Hunter and keeps Dinkelacker on the case.

Aug. 19, 2015: Hunter files a federal lawsuit against Deters and 18 other county leaders and attorneys, and Deters calls it proof that she  "needs professional help." Hunter accuses them of violating her civil rights and leading to an unfair trial. Defendants include Nadel,  Dinkelacker, Juvenile Court Judge John Williams, Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Curt Kissinger, Court of Appeal judges and more. "If anyone doesn’t believe that this woman needs professional help, all they need to do is read this lawsuit,” Deters tells WCPO.

Oct. 6, 2015: Hunter selects Louis Sirkin, First Amendment and criminal defense attorney, to represent her after Clyde  Bennett II withdraws.

Nov. 24, 2015: Hunter tells confidants she wants to run for her juvenile court seat in 2016. State Sen. Cecil Thomas passes the word at a meeting of the Hamilton County Democratic Party's Executive Committee. But that's a problem on two fronts. The party has already endorsed local attorney Darrell Payne, and the Ohio Supreme Court suspended her from the bench upon her conviction.

Dec. 21, 2015: Saying her felony conviction makes her ineligible, the Hamilton County Board of Elections says it won't allow Hunter to run for her seat again.

Dec. 30, 2015: Dinkelacker denies Hunter's motion to drop the remaining charges against her. Hunter's attorneys claim Hunter has been the victim of "vindictive prosecution" in retaliation for rulings she made against the prosecutor's office. Her trial is set to begin set to begin Jan. 19.

Jan. 15, 2016: The Ohio Court of Appeals upholds Hunter's conviction. Hunter charged that the prosecution’s commentary during rebuttal closing arguments deprived her of a fair trial. But Judge Russell Mock said her conviction was based on “sufficient evidence” and that “the trial court properly denied her motion for an acquittal.” 

Jan. 19, 2016: Hamilton County special prosecutors drop the remaining eight charges against Hunter.

Jan. 21, 2016: The Ohio Supreme Court continues the stay of sentence for Hunter while she appeals.

Feb. 25, 2016: A dozen Hunter supporters claimed the prosecutor's office tampered with critical evidence in her case, and they demanded an independent investigation. They claim a computer forensic expert hired by Hunter discovered that “instead of preserving critical computer evidence, it appears the State or someone in the Juvenile Court intentionally allowed the hard drive, which contained information about backdating, on one computer to be wiped clean and sold at an auction in December 2013.” They say that evidence could have proved Hunter's innocence but it was intentionally left out of the court proceedings.

May 17, 2016: By a 4-3 vote, the Ohio Supreme Court decides not to hear Hunter's appeal. The court had stayed Hunter's sentence for nearly 17 months, but that stay ran out when her appeals did. She was ordered to begin serving her sentence on May 20.

May 19, 2016: Federal Judge Timothy Black stayed Hunter's sentence a day before she was scheduled to begin serving six months in the Justice Center. Her attorneys filed a motion citing Hunter's back problems and unfavorable jail conditions and also petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus. It claims misconduct by special prosecutor Scott Croswell III and errors by Judge Norbert Nadel violated Hunter's constitutional rights during her trial. They also claim the appellate court misapplied federal law when it upheld her conviction on a felony charge.

May 20, 2016: Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker said he would not defy Black's ruling staying Hunter's sentence but he expressed doubt about the federal judge's authority in the case. He said Black "has, in my opinion, stepped into state proceedings."