Witnesses take the stands as the Tracie Hunter trial continues - Cincinnati News, Weather, Sports from FOX19 NOW-WXIX

Witnesses take the stand as the Tracie Hunter trial continues

The fifth day of the trial of suspended Hamilton County Judge Tracie Hunter will start with the special prosecution's second witness. (Photo: FOX19/Jody Barr) The fifth day of the trial of suspended Hamilton County Judge Tracie Hunter will start with the special prosecution's second witness. (Photo: FOX19/Jody Barr)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

The fifth day of the trial of suspended Hamilton County Judge Tracie Hunter finished as it started with the special prosecution's second witness. Prosecutors called assistant Hamilton County prosecutor James Harper to the stand yesterday. Both sides finished with Harper late this afternoon.

Harper heads Joe Deters' civil division of the Hamilton County prosecutor's office.

Prosecutors honed in on the charges that Hunter committed theft by using her county-issued credit card to pay for legal filings in lawsuits against her. Harper testified that state law prohibited Hunter from using her card for anything other than travel, food, lodging, phone, internet service and costs associated with vehicle maintenance.

Hunter's card, Harper testified, could not be used for any legal fees, as defined by state law.

Clyde Bennett, Hunter's defense attorney, made the point when cross examining Harper that the county had an obligation to train Hunter on the use of the county credit card. Harper said Hunter, who is also an attorney, should have known the state law governing her county credit card, "What you're saying is, you (inaudible) knowledge to her about the specific statutory provision under how her card was issued to her because it's just natural curiosity," Bennett asked Harper. "I would think so. If I had a credit card, I would want to know what I could use it for, how much I could spend and--I mean, that's just basic 101 finance," Harper replied.

Bennett asked Harper whether the juvenile court administrator had a duty to educate and train Hunter on the laws regarding approved credit card use, "He probably would have assumed that the judge would know what you could or could not do with a credit card. It wouldn't be his position to instruct her, that's a dangerous thing sometimes, instructing judges," Harper said from the stand.

"There are many work related expenses, let me put it that way. The statute identified the many work related expenses. They're travel. That's what it's all about--the statute says travel, Harper said. I'm talking about knowledge of the statute when you get the card," Bennett replied. "You would think you would inquire before you use," Harper said.

The first witness called Thursday was the case manager from the Ohio Supreme Court who testified that Tracie Hunter filed eleven separate pleadings in 2013.

The case manager, Justin Kudela, testified that the 11 filings were all paid for by Hunter, using a credit card the prosecution said was paid for by Hamilton County taxpayers. Kudela, in reviewing the court's receipts, noted each transaction, "Indicates payment received from Tracy Marie Hunter and it was a credit card."

When Hunter was sued in 2013 and she was required to have the Hamilton County prosecutor's office represent her in the case. That requirement is spelled out in state law, according to Harper. "The only representation she could have as a matter of law in her official capacity was by the county prosecutor," Harper told the jury.

Harper testified that Hunter ignored the county's counsel and hired her own attorneys to represent her in the lawsuit. Hunter's attorney, Clyde Bennett, said in past hearings that Hunter didn't trust the county prosecutor's office because of the office's role in court cases surrounding her 2012 election.

In that case, the county sued to prevent provisional ballots from being counted after Hunter fell just short of victory in the race. Hunter won her lawsuit, forcing a recount of the provisional ballots, which secured her enough votes to win her judgeship.

Harper said he met with Hunter in 2013 to advise her against using tax dollars to hire her own attorneys and that the law required her to use the prosecutor's office because she was being sued for a decision she made in her "official capacity." The meeting, Harper testified, went nowhere with Hunter.

"From then on, my communications--almost completely--with Judge Hunter were by email because, quite frankly, as an experienced litigator, I sensed I may have some issues," Harper testified. In subsequent emails, Harper said Hunter started copying others to the email chain, breaking her attorney-client privilege with the county. Hunter refused to cooperate with the prosecutor's office in the case, Harper said.

Hunter, the prosecution said, spent $1,100 on the filings using her county credit card. That decision, the prosecution said, supported the theft in office indictment against Hunter.

Hunter wanted the county prosecutor's office off the lawsuit. After multiple attempts to have Harper and the rest of Deters' office removed, Harper testified, Hunter had Harper, Deters and another assistant prosecutor investigated by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Hunter filed an ethics complaint against Harper and the others, accusing them all of wrongdoing in the handling of her cases. The move would ensure Harper and the county prosecutor's office would be removed.

"It is a direct challenge to your reputation. It is probably the worst thing under disbarment that could happen to an attorney," Harper told jurors Thursday.

Testimony finished Friday as Hunter's side continued questioning James Harper. The state plans to call more witnesses next week. The trial is expected to last 4 to 6 weeks.

For up to the minute updates, follow FOX19 investigative reporter Jody Barr on Twitter @FOX19Jody.

Copyright 2014 WXIX. All rights reserved.

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