Prosecutor's office reneges on promise of legal opinion on controversial clerk of courts hire

Situation could be moot with Tracy Winkler's ouster by voters. Aftab Pureval hasn't decided if he will keep Donald Robinson.

The Hamilton County prosecutor’s office has backed out of a pledge to render a legal opinion on Clerk of Courts Tracy Winkler’s transfer of a recently reprimanded employee into a new, $70,000-a-year job in October.

The opinion was requested Nov. 2 by County Commissioner Todd Portune. He expressed concerns about the move’s impact on the county budget. He also questioned Donald Robinson’s assignment of hearing officer duties under a parking ticket enforcement program governed by a contract between the city of Cincinnati and the county Board of Commissioners.

A month earlier, Robinson had been issued a written reprimand for pressuring clerk of courts employees — in a work-hours email — to wear T-shirts and plant yard signs in support of Winkler’s re-election. He was ordered to apologize and tell employees that campaign assistance had no bearing on their jobs or promotion chances.

On Oct. 24, Robinson was replaced as the clerk’s chief bailiff in municipal criminal courtrooms. He was named “safety services director” and put in charge of workplace safety programs. His annual salary remained unchanged at $70,035.

That drew criticism not only from Aftab Pureval, the Democrat who would go on to win the clerk of courts election Nov. 8, but from Portune. At his request, assistant county prosecutor Michael Friedmann agreed to “look into” the Robinson maneuver.

“We’ll work with the administration in tailoring an opinion for you on that,” Friedmann told Portune at the board’s Nov. 2 meeting.

But in a Nov. 3 letter to the board of commissioners and Winkler, Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney James Harper killed the inquiry.

“As you are well aware, the clerk of courts is an independent elected official who is free to manage the affairs of her office in the way that best meets the needs of her office,” he wrote. “The Board of County Commissioners does not supervise the clerk or her staff.

“Therefore, there is nothing to further to (sic) review, and you are so advised,” Harper closed.

Portune did not respond to a request for comment last week.

Harper’s letter did not address a possible conflict of interest identified by CityBeat, that Winkler’s office employs at least two relatives — including a daughter — of Harper’s boss, prosecutor Joe Deters.

However fixed his transfer, Robinson is not assured employment in the court clerk’s office when Pureval replaces Winkler on Jan. 2. As an unclassified employee, he has no civil service protections and would work at Pureval’s desire. His retention would come as a surprise since Robinson is a longtime Republican functionary and was one of Winkler’s chief wranglers for campaign volunteers.

Pureval wouldn’t say where he stands on Robinson.

“We are still evaluating the structure and personnel within the office and have no comment on individual employees,” Pureval said last week.

CONTACT JAMES McNAIR: j[email protected] / @JMacNews on Twitter / 513-665-4700, x. 142

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