Chaos erupted in an Ohio courtroom Monday as a former judge was dragged out to begin serving a six-month jail sentence following a felony conviction for helping her brother, a county employee, hold onto his job.
Supporters of Tracie Hunter objected with shouts and at least one had to be restrained as a deputy approached the defendant and, holding Hunter by the armpits as she went limp, pulled her from the courtroom with Hunter’s heels dragging, video of the incident shows.
The former Hamilton County juvenile court judge had been convicted in 2014 on a charge of unlawful interest in a public contract after sharing confidential documents with her brother, then a juvenile court employee who was about to be fired, reports The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Hunter had been free while her conviction was appealed, but a federal judge tasked with reviewing the county case ruled last May that “strong evidence” existed against Hunter and the punishment could proceed, according to the outlet.
Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker imposed the sentence, which originally was ordered by now-retired judge Norbert Nadel, according to Cincinnati TV station WLWT.
The sentence was opposed in letters from both Cincinnati’s mayor and vice mayor, according to Cincinnati TV station WCPO.
“I appreciate that she has been convicted but serving prison time seems to me to be disproportionate to her crime,” wrote Mayor John Cranley in a letter to Dinkelacker requesting that he not send Hunter to jail.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, who was not involved in Hunter’s case, said in a letter read aloud by Dinkelacker that Hunter had not expressed remorse for her actions. But Deters, too, raised concern about the sentencing, stating he believes Hunter may suffer from “mental illness” that should be evaluated before any sentence is carried out, reports WCPO.
David Singleton, a defense attorney for Hunter, also asked that the sentence be further delayed, saying he planned to file a motion to dismiss her conviction and that Hunter had not violated state law, according to the Enquirer.
“We believe it will be profoundly unjust and unfair, and a waste of taxpayer dollars, to incarcerate her for one minute,” he said in court Monday.
“She’s lost everything almost,” Singleton said. “She lost her job as a judge, her law license, her ability to earn an income. She’s lost peace of mind.”
Scott Croswell, a special prosecutor who helped secure Hunter’s 2014 conviction by a jury, said the sentence was warranted.
The former judge had faced eight additional counts, but those were dismissed after jurors failed to reach a verdict, and her attorneys argued that her prosecution stemmed from politics after Hunter reached the bench as the declared winner of a disputed election, according to WCPO.
“What she wants to do is play by her own set of rules,” Croswell said in court Monday, reports WLWT. “That’s the very attitude and the very conduct that put her in the predicament that she’s in and, frankly, has caused all this pain to her and caused all this turmoil to the community.”
Deters has asked the office of Gov. Mike DeWine to consider commuting Hunter’s sentence, but Hunter herself must apply for the commutation, a spokesman for the governor’s office told the Enquirer.
Hunter currently is being held in the medical facility at the Hamilton County Justice Center, where jail officials said she can be evaluated to see if she qualifies for early release, according to WLWT.