Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Prosecutor hopefuls debate experience

By Dan Horn
Enquirer staff writer

Fanon Rucker (left), shakes hands with Joe Deters at the beginning of their debate at Xavier University. Both are write-in candidates for Hamilton County prosecutor.
Republican Joe Deters said Tuesday his opponent in the Hamilton County prosecutor's race lacks the experience to make the life-and-death decisions the office requires.

But Democrat Fanon Rucker said the experience Deters offers would lead to the same kind of controversy and scandals that plague the office today.

In their first face-to-face debate of the campaign, Deters and Rucker shared the stage at Xavier University's Cintas Center and spent more than an hour trading barbs and defining their differences.

Both men are running as write-in candidates to replace Prosecutor Mike Allen, who withdrew from the race because of a sex scandal. They have just three weeks left before the Nov. 2 election to make their case to voters.

The focus Tuesday night quickly turned to the candidates' experience. Deters, who was prosecutor for seven years before becoming Ohio's treasurer, questioned Rucker's ability to prosecute serious felonies, assaults and death penalty cases.

"These are life-and-death cases," Deters said. "We're talking about who should live and who should die. Unless you've had that experience, it doesn't measure up."

: Cincinnati.
Age: 47.
Occupation: Ohio treasurer.
Experience: Hamilton County prosecutor for seven years (left in 1999 to become state treasurer). Former Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, assistant county prosecutor and co-chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party.
Education: Law degree, University of Cincinnati.
Family: Married, four children.

: Gary, Ind.
Age: 32.
Occupation: Lawyer, Santen & Hughes law firm.
Experience: City prosecutor for Woodlawn and Lincoln Heights. Former assistant city solicitor in Cincinnati and former president Black Lawyers Association. Specializes in civil rights and employment law.
Education: Law degree, University of Cincinnati.
Family: Married, two children.
Rucker, a former city prosecutor who handled hundreds of less-serious misdemeanor cases, said he knows how to work in a courtroom and how to run an office ethically and efficiently.

He said a campaign finance scandal linked to the treasurer's office raises questions about Deters' fitness to run the prosecutor's office. Although Deters was not charged with wrongdoing, two of his associates were convicted of misdemeanors.

"That's not the record we need in the chief law enforcement office in the county," Rucker said. "It raises a cloud. Hamilton County doesn't need that cloud."

Deters said he did nothing wrong and complained that the investigation into his office was politically motivated.

Most of the debate questions, posed by a panel of four journalists, focused on what the two candidates have done to prepare for the job of prosecutor and what changes they would make to the office.

Deters touted the lower crime rates of the 1990s as proof he made a positive difference when he held the job. He promised a tougher stance on violent crime, especially in death penalty cases.

Rucker said he'd be tough, too. But he said his office would use "more discretion" in sending juveniles to adult court and in seeking the death penalty.

He said Hamilton County, which leads the state in death row inmates with 43, puts too much emphasis on the ultimate penalty.

"That should raise concerns for every right-minded individual," Rucker said.

"Who are the 22 people that my office put on death row who should have gotten a break?" Deters shot back. "These are vicious killers."

But Rucker said Deters' approach to those cases and others has been overly aggressive and, at times, thoughtless. And he said it has fueled a perception among some African-Americans that the prosecutor's office takes too hard a line with minorities while going easier on others.

"Perception is often reality," Rucker said. "The prosecutor's office has an obligation to treat everyone the same."

Deters said his office was "color blind" in the 1990s and would be again if he's elected.


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