What The Enquirer considers newsworthy apparently changes depending on what season it is.
That’s about the only conclusion someone can draw from the article the newspaper published along the bottom of its front page on Sunday, May 15. Sprawled along four of the page’s five columns of type, on the day of the week with The Enquirer’s largest readership, was a story about how many times a local judicial candidate has been involved in litigation.
The article, headlined “Hunter has sued or been sued 13 times,” was about Tracie Hunter, an attorney, pastor and former gospel radio deejay, who ran as a Democrat for Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge last November.
Some six months later, that race against Republican candidate John Williams still is undecided.
That’s because Hunter seemingly lost by just 23 votes out of nearly 230,000 ballots cast by county voters. Under Ohio law, if the margin of victory is under one-half of 1 percent, an automatic recount is triggered. But exactly which ballots should be counted is at the heart of a bitter political battle between the Democratic and Republican parties, with potentially far-reaching consequences.
The dispute centers on which provisional ballots should be tallied. Provisional ballots are those cast by a person who may or may not be eligible to vote, which are set aside for later review by elections officials.
In the judicial race, 849 provisional ballots eventually were disqualified. Hunter and local Democratic Party leaders, however, believe 286 of those ballots should be counted because they were cast by people who showed up to vote at the correct polling place but were misdirected by poll workers and voted at the wrong precinct table.
In other words, the glitch occurred through no fault of the voters, who acted in good faith.
Hunter filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the ballots should be counted. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott ordered the local Board of Elections to precisely determine how many ballots weren’t counted due to poll worker error, before she decided. That’s when local Republicans appealed the order.
The GOP tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter, but it declined to hear the case in April. That puts the ball back in Dlott’s court and a hearing is scheduled in July.
It was amid that heated background that The Enquirer’s front-page article appeared. The dubious story detailed how Hunter was involved in 13 lawsuits over the years filed in Hamilton County courts.
They include five cases connected to a condominium she owns in Westwood. The article stated, “She’s twice been on the brink of foreclosure for two separate properties and twice sued people over car crashes in which she says she was injured, records show.”
For good measure, the article added that The Enquirer found Hunter “may have exaggerated claims about her experience in the judicial system.”
Guess what? With the sole exception of a lawsuit Hunter filed this month against her condo association for breach of contract, all of those other court records were available online and to the public last fall before the election.
The Enquirer had a reporter assigned to cover the judicial race, and apparently that person and editors either didn’t check or decided the information wasn’t relevant to voters before November. The same data also was available to Republicans, who either decided not to make it a central issue in the race or were ignorant of it.
The sudden interest probably stems from the knowledge that Dlott will be making the final decision about which ballots to count. The judge was appointed by a Democrat — President Clinton — and that’s got to worry the GOP.
Interestingly, Williams — remember, he’s the Republican who is running against Hunter — is currently employed as Hamilton County’s deputy clerk of courts, which is a partisan appointment. He has ready access to court records as part of his job and plenty of time to peruse the records every day. What a coincidence.
Similarly, all of the claims on Hunter’s website about her legal experience were listed and in full public view last fall. If The Enquirer thought they were exaggerated, it should’ve raised the concerns then, when voters could’ve factored it into their decisions.
The Enquirer’s article also notes that Hunter once interned for attorney Stan Chesley, who is Dlott’s husband. It then reminds readers that Dlott “is presiding over the election case.”
True, but if that’s pertinent, it is also relevant to note that Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters also works for Chesley’s law firm. Deters is the unofficial head of the local GOP and filed the appeal to the Supreme Court on the party’s behalf. Logic dictates he would have more influence with Chesley and Dlott than a woman who briefly interned with the former several years ago.
A fact like that is called “exculpatory evidence” in court, meaning it’s favorable to the defendant in a trial and must be turned over to the defendant’s attorneys if discovered by prosecutors. Surely Deters’ association with Chesley is more immediate and direct than Hunter’s and should’ve merited a mention by The Enquirer in the interest of fairness.
Frankly, last fall’s judicial campaign was Williams to lose. He had the advantage in that it was a year heavily tilted toward Republican turnout and that the county is predominantly GOP. An article could just as easily be written examining why Williams wasn’t able to win the race by a wider margin.
As anyone who spoke to me about last fall’s elections can tell you, I’m no fan of Hunter’s. Although she has been an attorney for 17 years, her actual courtroom experience has been fairly minimal as Hunter focused on a career in religious broadcasting. Most of that time was spent at WCVG (1320 AM), although lately it’s been with MyUrbanGospel.com, an Internet radio station she founded.
Further, Hunter’s campaign website was vague about how she would operate as a judge and what made her the better choice for voters. On her website, she outlines her “vision” for the court under four broad categories: rehabilitation, education, application and restoration. Each contains an ambiguous statement like this one under rehabilitation: “Implement training components designed to eliminate destructive behavior.”
(To be fair, many local politicians are guilty of this. For example, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann left his web page blank under “Greg’s Plan” during his first commission campaign in 2008 and even now it only contains six broad sentences about his “priorities,” but nothing on how to accomplish them.)
Then Hunter includes this biblical verse on her website as a motto, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he shall not depart.”
Swell, but the county needs a competent judge that knows the law, not an evangelist. The whole situation left me scratching my head and wondering, once again, what factors the Hamilton County Democratic Party considers when deciding whether a person is a good candidate. (See previous columns about Dale Mallory and Jeff Berding.)
But my personal opinion of her doesn’t matter much. Hunter met all the legal qualifications to run for judge and worked hard on the campaign trail. Moreover, voters obviously seemed to prefer her given the totality of ballots cast.
The Enquirer has long been accused of being a shill for Republicans. When articles are written like the one about Hunter, it confirms those suspicions.
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