Hunter witness: Records given to judge's brother 'unethical,' refused to take them
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The trial of suspended Hamilton County Judge Tracie Hunter is at the end of the fourth week and no one knows how close Hunter's side is to finishing presenting its case. Prosecutors rested last Friday and Hunter's side has spent the week presenting witnesses in her defense of the nine felony counts against her.
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.
Hunter's side could rest its case today. Bennett told reporters Thursday that he could have his case wrapped up today and closing statements started early next week.
The question whether Hunter will take the stand in her own defense has not been answered. Bennett told FOX19 earlier this week when asked whether Hunter will testify, “Probably. Maybe.”
The defense will call its next witness after the trial resumes this morning at 10 a.m.
For the latest developments in this case, follow FOX19 investigative reporter Jody Barr on Twitter
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