The pair of special prosecutors tasked with proving nine felony charges against suspended judge Tracie Hunter spent three weeks working to prove their case to a Hamilton County jury. Hunter and her attorney spent six days trying to show the same jury she's innocent. Hunter's side rested Friday afternoon.
Prosecutors presented 14 witnesses against Hunter—even using her own brother to try to prove charges that Hunter used her position to help her brother fight Hamilton County's decision to fire him from his job as a jailer at the county's juvenile jail.
The county grand jury charged Hunter in January with using her position to get her brother overtime hours working security in her courtroom and using her position to obtain federally protected records on a juvenile inmate Steven Hunter, the judge's brother, was fired for physically assaulting inside the county jail.
Hunter faces a total of nine felony charges, leveled against her by the Hamilton County grand jury.
PROSECUTORS USE HUNTER'S BAILIFF AGAINST HER
Friday, Hunter's side called her former bailiff to the stand. The bailiff, Avery Corbin, was not subpoenaed by prosecutors. Corbin testified that Hunter never used her position to provide her brother overtime work inside her courtroom. The decision to have Steven Hunter work the courtroom was Corbin's, the former bailiff told the jury.
The indictment against Hunter accuses the suspended judge of using her position and influence to help her brother, who worked in the county's juvenile lockup.
Under direct examination Friday, Hunter's attorney Clyde Bennett, questioned Corbin about emails and phone calls to the juvenile jail around April 2013, asking for the judge's brother to work security in Hunter's courtroom. Corbin told the jury several times that judge Hunter had no idea or involvement in making sure her brother got overtime hours in his sister's courtroom.
Under cross examination, special prosecutor Scott Croswell presented Corbin with grand jury testimony from December 2013. Croswell said Corbin's story to the grand jury about whether the judge knew about plans to have her brother work her courtroom differed from what he told the jury Friday.
“Was Judge Hunter in anyway involved in your procurement of Steven Hunter working on April 2, 2013,” Croswell asked Corbin during Friday's proceedings. “No sir, that's between Mr. Bowman and myself,” Corbin said.
Corbin told the jury he never told Hunter about using her brother for security work in her courtroom, only telling Hunter about it after details to bring her brother over were nailed down with the juvenile court administrator, Dwayne Bowman.
Corbin testified he often handled security issues and other court duties without Hunter's knowledge and consent, only notifying her of his actions after the fact.
Croswell pulled out Corbin's grand jury testimony, quoting it from the official court record. Croswell read what Corbin said, “'I told her I was going to do that, yeah,' Is that what it says,” Croswell asked as he stood over Corbin. “That what it says,” Corbin responded from the stand Friday, “But, that's an after the—I was going to let her know everything I've done, absolutely.”
Croswell continued to press Corbin on whether Hunter was involved in hiring her brother. Corbin continued to deny the allegations. Croswell continued questioning Corbin about his grand jury testimony, suggesting to the jury at one point Corbin changed his testimony for trial.
Croswell again used Corbin's grand jury testimony in an attempt to impeach Tracie Hunter's final witness. “Judge Hunter knew you were going to do that, right,” Croswell read from the transcript. “And your response was: ‘I told her I would.' And the next question from me (Croswell) was: ‘Yeah?' And you said, ‘Yeah, I told her I was going to do that, yeah.' That is an accurate representation of what's contained in the grand jury transcript from Dec. 12, 2013, is it not?” Croswell asked Corbin.
“That's what we just read, yes sir,” Corbin responded. But, it's a misinterpretation of what that meant. That's an after the fact statement, Mr. Croswell.”
HUNTER'S BROTHER AND ATTORNEY HELP PROSECUTORS
Last Thursday, Hunter's attorney called Cincinnati attorney, Janaya Trotter, to the stand. Trotter testified to prosecutors' allegations that Hunter used her position to provide her brother, Steven Hunter, with federally protected documents as Hamilton County prepared to fire him.
Mr. Hunter was fired from his job as a Hamilton County juvenile jailer after he assaulted a child inmate inside the county jail. The county prepared to hold a termination hearing with Hunter and his attorney on August 1, 2013 and the night before the hearing, prosecutors said the judge supplied her brother with confidential information on her brother's victim to help him fight his firing on August 1.
Steven Hunter took to the stand last Wednesday and told jurors that he received records from his sister, Judge Tracie Hunter, and delivered those to his attorney, Trotter, the night before his hearing. The pair, Mr. Hunter testified, met at a gas station near Trotter's home and he paid her for her services and gave her the records.
Mr. Hunter's testimony stopped there. He did not give details on what exactly his sister gave him, but the records he said were directly related to his termination hearing. Hunter's side did not ask any questions of him during cross examination.
Trotter, though, offered the most detailed evidence of what Steven Hunter tried to give her that night—records that Hunter said his sister handed him. Although Trotter contended she didn't exactly remember what records were in the packet, she testified she refused to take some documents she felt would cause her ethical troubles.
Under direct examination Thursday Trotter told Hunter's attorney she never received anything directly from judge Hunter, but did meet with the judge's brother to pick up a packet of documents the night before the August 1 termination hearing. The only records Trotter testified were in the packet she took from Steven Hunter were public records and nothing the public wouldn't be able to get.
What Trotter didn't tell the jury was there were other records Steven Hunter tried to give her that she refused to take.
Under cross examination Special Prosecutor Scott Croswell got testimony from Trotter that offered more information about the records Tracie Hunter supplied her brother. “Did you reject any document he offered you that night” Croswell asked Trotter. “Yes,” Trotter responded. “Did you reject the documents because you felt it was unethical to have them” Croswell asked. “I rejected the documents, yes, because I didn't want to take the documents—I didn't really want to be involved in anything unethical because I was going to look at the documents the next morning,” Trotter explained.
Trotter never said exactly what records she refused to take, but during testimony last week, Hamilton County Juvenile Jail administrator Dwayne Bowman said he gave judge Hunter private, federally protected records on Steven Hunter's child victim after the judge sent him requests for that information. It's information Bowman said isn't normally sent out but because a judge was asking for it, he felt he had an obligation to provide Hunter with the records.
Last summer, Trotter testified before the Hamilton County Grand Jury that indicted Tracie Hunter on the nine felony counts she's being tried on now. Then, prosecutors contended Trotter had much better recollection of what records the judge's brother provided her the night before his hearing.
Croswell handed Trotter a transcript of her grand jury testimony Thursday, and had her read it to Tracie Hunter's jury, “It says,” Trotter said as she read the transcript, “And, as a result of him (Steven Hunter) telling you where he got the papers, you indicated that you might be in a position where you would have to report unethical or potentially illegal conduct to the Supreme Court if you accepted possession of them? My answer: I did not think illegal. I did think unethical, yes. Question: And, you were concerned you might have to make an ethical report to the Supreme Court about the person who gave him the documents? Answer: yes,” Trotter said.
Croswell asked Trotter whether she ever reported the unethical conduct to the Ohio Supreme Court, which is required of attorneys who know of or see unethical conduct among licensed attorneys. Trotter told Croswell she did not report it.
Tracie Hunter did not take the stand in her own defense. Arguments over evidence happen Monday.
Both sides could finish closing arguments Monday. The trial judge told both sides if they finish early enough, the jury could begin deliberating Monday afternoon. Deliberations will not go later than 4 p.m., the judge told the jury.
For the latest developments in this case, follow FOX19 investigative reporter Jody Barr on Twitter @FOX19Jody.
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