Community And Council Members React To Hunter Sentencing

Jul 22, 2019

Updated: 3:29 p.m.

A Hamilton County judge has ordered a former juvenile court judge to jail, ending years of legal challenges that allowed her to remain free.

Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker ordered Tracie Hunter to start her six-month jail sentence Monday morning. Hunter was convicted of having an unlawful interest in a public contract in 2014 after being accused of trying to protect her brother's county job.

Hunter was also charged with theft in office, forgery, tampering with evidence and misuse of a county credit card. Those charges were dropped after a jury couldn't reach verdicts. 

Outside the courthouse, Marian Solomon says justice in Hamilton County is hypocritical.

"Everybody has at some point in time done what they could to help their family, to help their friends in difficult situations," she says. "Name one judge in there who has not committed that same atrocity."  

Others called the decision a "total injustice." Li Howard says Hunter was trying to clean up a corrupt system in order to protect children. 

"They haven't been getting justice here for years," she says. "This is a judge. She is part of them, part of the judgeship, and for her to be treated that way does send a pretty bad message." 

Our news partner WCPO reports that after Dinkelacker ordered authorities to take Hunter to jail, the crowd inside the courtroom erupted, with one person allegedly shouting, "This city is going to burn." 

One person was apprehended and Hunter had to be dragged from the courtroom by a deputy after she went limp. (Warning: the below video may contain explicit content.)

Soon after the verdict, Mayor John Cranley released a letter he sent to Dinkelacker. "I appreciated that she has been convicted but serving prison time seems to me to be disproportionate to her crime," Cranley wrote. "Ms. Hunter has suffered for her conviction. She was removed as a judge and no longer has her law license. It doesn't appear to me that she poses any risks to others. Her professional life has been negatively impacted. She has been punished enough." 

The mayor added that Hunter purportedly takes care of her elderly mother and sending her to jail would create difficulties for her care. Cranley also mentioned how "jail space is at a premium for violent offenders" and "Ms. Hunter poses no violent harm to anybody." 

Council Member Christopher Smitherman also released a letter he had written to the judge on July 15 in Hunter's defense. "I ask that you do not impose the six-month jail sentence on Ms Hunter," he wrote. "However, if you do impose a jail sentence, please consider a court order that allows for early release at Sheriff (Jim) Neil's discretion. This is an opportunity to look at the circumstances and extend mercy." 

Sheriff Neil says his staff is evaluating whether Hunter can qualify for early release programs and that Hunter's "personal well-being and safety will be my number one priority while in the Justice Center."

WCPO reports that Dinkelacker has said he received 45 postcards at his home asking him to exonerate Hunter. He added that no judge should have to go through what he went through. 

"I will never, ever, ever bow to that type of pressure," he said. 

An earlier version of this story said Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman had sent his letter to the judge following the verdict. Smitherman sent his letter to Judge Dinkelacker on July 15.  This story was also edited to better reflect Hunter's conviction.