- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A suspended juvenile court judge does not have to report to jail Monday to serve a six-month sentence following her conviction for unlawful interest in a public contract, the Ohio Supreme Court said Friday in delaying the sentence while the judge appeals.

The court’s 4-3 decision followed rulings by two lower courts rejecting Judge Tracie Hunter’s request to delay her sentence.

The ruling was “absolute vindication” and a signal that Hunter will successfully fight her conviction down the road, her attorney, Clyde Bennett, said Friday. The Supreme Court was the first to look at Hunter’s case “fairly and objectively” and not politically, Bennett said.

“I’m convinced that because of this stay by the Ohio Supreme Court that Judge Hunter will not serve one day in jail because her conviction is going to be reversed on appeal,” he said.

Messages were left for the Attorney General’s Office, which represented Hamilton County in the criminal case against Hunter.

Hunter, who has been suspended from the bench, was convicted in October. Authorities say she secured documents related to her brother’s juvenile court employment that she wasn’t supposed to have. She could have faced up to 18 months in prison.

At sentencing earlier this month, Judge Norbert Nadel said that despite the fact that probation often is given for lesser felonies, evidence in Hunter’s case showed serious ethical violations. Nadel said Hunter also faced a “double-whammy” as a judge and a public official.

At trial, jurors were unable to reach unanimous verdicts on eight other counts, including tampering with evidence, forgery and theft in office. Prosecutors could seek a new trial on those counts.

The 48-year-old Democrat took the bench in 2012 after a lengthy legal battle over disputed 2010 election results. She contended that the charges against her were politically motivated.

The Ohio Supreme Court suspended Hunter with pay after she was indicted in January and accused of crimes that included backdating court documents and misusing a county credit card.

Ministers, lawyers and friends of Hunter pleaded with Nadel not to send her to jail, describing a lifetime of service to the community by Hunter.

Special Prosecutor R. Scott Croswell III said that while it was a sad day for Hunter, the community and the judicial system, Hunter should be given jail time.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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