By DAN SEWELL
A southwest Ohio juvenile court judge accused of backdating court documents and misusing county credit cards pleaded not guilty Friday to nine felony charges.
Judge Tracie Hunter stood before Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel and listened as the charges were read and her attorney, Richard Blake of Cleveland, told Nadel her plea before a standing-room-only courtroom. Hunter, who had her fingerprints and mug shot taken Wednesday at the Hamilton County Justice Center, remained free on her promise to return for future court dates. The next hearing was set for March 4.
Hunter, a Democrat, has indicated she believes she is being targeted for political reasons. She didn’t comment while leaving the court, but a supporter told reporters afterward the charges are for political retaliation.
“These are trumped-up charges,” said Bobby Hilton, a Cincinnati area civil rights activist with the National Action Network.
She was finally seated in 2012 after a prolonged legal battle over the disputed 2010 juvenile judge election results. After her indictment last week, Hunter, 47, suggested that there were opponents to her because of changes she wants in juvenile court and because she is a black Democrat.
Hilton said he thinks the case is more about politics than race.
“I think it’s simply Republican against Democrat,” he said. “I think it’s right against wrong.”
The Ohio Supreme Court disqualified her from hearing cases after her indictment last week, and has appointed a retired judge to help handle her caseload pending resolution of the charges against her. The state’s high court had earlier held her in contempt for continuing to bar newspaper reporters from hearings.
Her indictment on counts including tampering with evidence, forgery and theft in office followed an investigation by two special prosecutors prompted by a memo accusing Hunter or someone in her office of backdating court documents in “a conscious act of deception.”
In a Sept. 13 memo to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, chief assistant prosecuting attorney Bill Breyer wrote that the first case of backdating related to a July 23 oral ruling by Hunter preventing prosecutors from introducing evidence at a trial. Prosecutors had one week to appeal the written order. It wasn’t filed until Aug. 22 but was backdated to appear as though it were filed July 23, according to the memo, which cited an affidavit obtained from the court’s software provider.
Another ruling was backdated by a week, the memo stated.
Hunter also is accused of using her county-issued credit card to pay court fees stemming from lawsuits against her and ordering that her brother — who provided security for the court before he was fired — be paid overtime.
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