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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

Elections Board: Tracie Hunter Can't Be On The Ballot

Howard Wilkinson

Suspended juvenile court judge Tracie Hunter won’t be on the March 15 primary ballot as a Democratic candidate for judge. 

The Hamilton County Board of Elections – two Democrats and two Republicans – voted unanimously Monday morning to bar Hunter from running for the juvenile court seat from which she was suspended. 

“The Ohio Supreme Court has said she’s not qualified at this point to serve as an attorney; and if you can’t be an attorney, you can’t be a candidate for judge,’’ said elections board chairman Tim Burke, who is also Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman.

Hunter was at Monday morning’s board meeting, along with a number of her supporters. After the vote, she told elections board members they could expect her to file a lawsuit challenging their decision.

“I will continue to stand for the right thing because the fact is I did nothing wrong,’’ Hunter told the board. “Expect a lawsuit.”

Hunter was suspended as a judge in Oct. 2014 after she was convicted on one felony count of unlawful interest in a public contract. She was sentenced to six months in prison, but that was stayed by the Ohio Supreme Court pending appeal of her conviction.

Next month, she goes on trial on eight felony counts that the jury in 2014 could not come to a decision on.

The Hamilton County prosecutor’s office, which hired special counsel to try Hunter, told the board it did not want to issue an opinion on whether or not she could be on the ballot.

So they hired lawyer Mark Mentel of Columbus as special counsel. Mentel is a Democrat and a former Columbus city council president, now running for county commissioner.

In a six-page opinion delivered to the board of elections, Mentel said the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Hunter indefinitely.

“As a result of Ms. Hunter’s indefinite suspension from the practice of law, Ms. Hunter is presumed to be unqualified at the time of the commencement of the (juvenile court) term,’’ Mentel wrote.

“If the (board of elections) refuses to certify Ms. Hunter to the ballot, then Ms. Hunter could request judicial review to determine her eligibility,” Mentel wrote. 

In an interview with WVXU, Hunter said she believes she has every right to run because she would be, in effect, running for re-election to a judgeship she already holds.

“Legally, I still hold the title of judge of the Hamilton County Juvenile Court,’’ Hunter said. “This is why there has not been an appointment, although I have been suspended.

Burke said that, as a convicted felon, Hunter is not eligible to be a candidate, even though that conviction is under appeal.

“Personally, I hope that appeal is successful,’’ Burke said. “I don’t know that though.”

The Democratic Party has already endorsed another lawyer, Darrell Payne, to be its candidate for the juvenile court judgeship. The Hamilton County Republican Party has endorsed Municipal Court Judge Melissa Powers for the seat. 

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.