FOX19 Investigates: Tracie Hunter pleads not guilty to 9 felony charges

Judge Tracie Hunter walks into court Friday.
Judge Tracie Hunter walks into court Friday.
Tracie Hunter appears in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Friday.
Tracie Hunter appears in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Friday.

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter pleaded not guilty to nine felony charges during her first court appearance on Friday.

Hunter, 47, was arraigned around 11 a.m. in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court during a brief proceeding.

A Hamilton County grand jury has indicted Hunter on two counts of tampering with evidence, two counts of forgery, two counts of having an unlawful interest in a public contract, two counts of theft in office and one count of misuse of credit cards.

Hunter's attorney entered the plea and nothing audible from Hunter could be heard. Judge Norbert Nadel released Hunter on her own recognizance. Her next court date is March 4.

Nadel's courtroom was standing-room only on Friday with Hunter's supporters and members of the media.

Bishop Bobby Hilton, president of the Greater Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network, said after the proceeding that since the indictment was issued last week, Hunter has "been prayerful and waiting for her day in court for all truth to come out."

Hilton, senior pastor of Word of Deliverance Ministries for World Inc. in Forest Park, said Hunter is very strong mentally and her leaving court Dec. 3 in an ambulance has nothing to do with her mental health. He said he's not saying anything is wrong with Hunter physically. Hunter suffered another medical episode Nov. 22 during a court proceeding and an ambulance took her to a hospital.

FOX19 legal analyst Mike Allen said Hunter's arraignment went exactly as expected.

Allen said the indictment's first four counts (two counts each of tampering with evidence and forgery) that cover altering records stand out to him.

"I think those are strong counts.  I know (special prosecutor) Scott Croswell. I know (special prosecutor) Merlyn Shiverdecker. They would not indict a case if they didn't think that there was evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Those are strong counts."

Allen said for the court "system to work, everybody has to be above board, especially judges. So it's not like a business and it's not like it's a clerical thing."

Allen said until the extra charge was added on Tuesday, Hunter was facing about 13 or 14 years in prison. He said even if she is convicted of all charges, he doesn't see her receiving the maximum sentence and there's a possibility she won't receive any jail time with the judge having an option of sentencing Hunter to probation.

Allen said he doesn't think there will be a plea bargain in the case because Hunter has given no indication that she wants to admit she's done anything wrong.

Hunter's term has been full of controversy starting with a disputed general election on Nov. 2, 2010. Two weeks later on Nov. 16, the Hamilton County Board of Elections completed its count of provisional ballots with Hunter losing to John Williams by 23 votes.

Hunter sought a temporary restraining order preventing the board from certifying the election results. She eventually prevailed in federal courts and won the seat. She finally took office on May 25, 2012 -- 18 months after the November 2010 general election.

Hunter is the first African-American juvenile court judge in Hamilton County.

Hilton said the case is "purely party politics. They did not want a Democrat judge on that bench." He also said he didn't "think any judge has ever been fought like this when it came to getting votes counted."

Allen, a former Hamilton County prosecutor and judge, said the case is not a political or racial issue but instead it's about competence.

"We have African-American judges on this bench from the Republican Party, from the Democratic Party, male (and) female who are amazingly competent," he said.

Hunter's supporters have created a Facebook page titled "JUDGE TRACIE HUNTER." 

JUDGE TRACIE HUNTER PLEADS NOT GUILTY! Let's continue to stand with and for this Honorable Judge. She's fighting for the fair treatment of ALL children in the Juvenile Justice system," said a post Friday on that Facebook page.

FOX19 reporter Matthew Nordin and digital content producer Kelly Taylor contributed.

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