Federal Judge Prevents Tracie Hunter From Being Jailed Friday
Suspended juvenile court judge Tracie Hunter was to have begun her six-month jail sentence Friday morning, but a federal judge has issued an emergency stay that will halt that, at least for now.
But, in a tense hearing in a common pleas courtroom, trial judge Patrick Dinkelacker argued that the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black was in error.
At first it looked like Dinkelacker might defy Black's order, but in the end he reluctantly accepted it.
"I have the authority from the court of appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court to proceed with imposition of sentence,'' Dinkelacker said. "But a federal judge has decided to step into a state case. In my opinion, it was an overreach.
"But at this point I will not defy the order of a federal judge,'' Dinkelacker said.
That meant that Hunter will remain free, at least through Black's hearings on the writ of habeas corpus.
Hunter, who was convicted in 2014 of one felony count of unlawful interest in a public contract, was to have appeared before Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Patrick Dinkelacker Friday morning to begin serving her sentence in the Hamilton County Justice Center.
But her appeals lawyer, David Singleton, went to U.S. District Court asking for a emergency stay of the sentence and a writ of habeas corpus, which, if successful, could mean that her jail sentence will be vacated and she would no longer be under the control of the Common Pleas Court.
The case was taken up by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Black.
Black, in a three-page order issued late Thursday, granted the stay and said he would hear her case.
It may take a while, Black said in his opinion.
"Hunter has the right to petition the federal courts to release her from her jail sentence if her constitutional right to a fair trial was denied because the proceedings 'so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of the process,''' Black wrote. "Whether that occurred here will require a careful, and therefore lengthy, review by this court."
Black wrote that he had to consider whether or not there was a likelihood Hunter would succeed on the merits of her case, would suffer irreparable harm from being jailed immediately, whether the stay would cause "substantial harm to others," and whether the injunction would serve the public interest.
"Having considered these factors, and given the circumstances of this case, this Court believes that a decision requiring Hunter to begin serving her sentence before this Court can make a ruling on the merits of her petition would be unfair on its face,'' Black wrote. "The interests of justice, and thereby the public interest, will be served by a stay."
In their brief to the federal judge, Singleton and fellow Hunter attorney Jennifer Branch alleged that the special prosecutor in Hunter's state trial, R. Scott Croswell, committed 51 acts of misconduct.
Hunter's attorneys claimed that the special prosecutors used 'irrelevant and inflammatory language," enlisted unsworn statements as evidence, and impugned the defense, among the acts of misconduct alleged.
Her lawyers also included a letter from her doctor saying that Hunter has severe back problems and could not get adequate care while incarcerated.
Hunter's lawyer turned to the federal court Wednesday after the Ohio Supreme Court, in a 4-3 vote, refused to take up the appeal of Hunter's conviction. Earlier this year, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati denied her appeal.
In her original trial, conducted by now-retired judge Norbert Nadel, Hunter was convicted on one of the nine felony charges against her. The jury could not reach a decision on the other eight.
The special prosecutors re-filed the eight other charges. But, in January, on the day she was to go to trial, the special prosecutors dropped the other eight counts.
All of the charges had to do with alleged misconduct by Hunter while she served on as a Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge. She was suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court as a judge, but the court allowed her to remain free while her case was under appeal.