Local News

Durham court feud escalates as DA fires back at judge

Posted November 18, 2011

— Three days after Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson criticized Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline in his dismissal of a high-profile murder case, Cline fired back, accusing Hudson of corruption and asking that he be barred from hearing criminal cases in the county.

Cline's unusual motion, filed late Thursday, and her complaint to the state Judicial Standards Commission escalates a feud between her and Hudson that has been simmering for months.

Hudson last December dismissed a murder charge against former death row inmate Derrick Michael Allen because of faulty blood analysis by the State Bureau of Investigation. Allen, 32, was charged in 1998 in the death and sexual assault of a 2-year-old girl who died of shaken baby syndrome.

Although the SBI evidence was at the heart of Hudson's decision, he also criticized Cline and a former prosecutor in his written ruling for withholding evidence favorable to Allen's defense.

Hudson's criticism went further in a ruling issued Monday in the murder case of Michael Dorman, which he dismissed in August because key evidence had been destroyed.

Dorman, 33, was arrested in July 2010 after one of his friends told authorities that Dorman admitted to killing a prostitute and asked him to help dispose of her remains, which he had in a backpack. Dorman told investigators that he only found the remains and planned to use them for his sexual gratification.

Hudson ruled that Cline delayed presenting Dorman's case to the grand jury long enough so that the remains could be cremated before any court order to preserve the evidence was issued. Cline then misled Dorman's attorney for months, the judge ruled, making him believe that the State Medical Examiner's Office still had a portion of the remains and that the rest had been buried.

Cline also dropped the initial charge filed against Dorman – concealing a body and failure to report a death – because that would have required her to preserve Boxley's remains, Hudson ruled.

Durham DA says judge biased against her

Citing these and other cases in her motion, Cline said that Hudson's actions violate the Code of Judicial Conduct.

"The District Attorney alleges, based on personal knowledge, that this Honorable Court's misconduct involves more than an error of judgment or a mere lack of diligence. This court's (action) encompasses conduct involving moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption," her motion states.

Hudson "harbors animosity toward the District Attorney" because she refused to dismiss Allen's case before he threw out the conviction, according to the motion. He has been trying to retaliate against Cline since then, the motion states.

"This extreme abuse of discretion and power destroys the integrity of the entire criminal justice system and must be controlled and restrained from this purposeful poisoning of the court system," the motion states.

Cline declined to comment on the dispute Friday. Hudson said he has confidence in the Judicial Standards Commission.

The commission next meets Dec. 2, but its proceedings are confidential.

Grievances handled by the North Carolina State Bar are likewise confidential, and State Bar counsel Katherine Jean declined to comment on whether any grievances have been filed against Cline in the disputes cases.

Raymond Pierce, dean of the North Carolina Central University School of Law, said that, while such a public dispute between a prosecutor and judge is undesirable, it doesn't necessarily mean criminal cases will become more backlogged in Durham courts.

"I don't see anything there that is going to significantly derail the carrying out of justice, in Durham County nor anything that might materially hamper the ability of the courts to function."

The feud has put at least one case on hold.

A hearing in Dorman's case that had been scheduled for Friday afternoon was postponed indefinitely. Hudson had asked that Dorman remain in custody after the murder charge was dismissed so he could be monitored to ensure that he doesn't pose a threat to himself or others. Defense attorney Lawrence Campbell wanted to revisit the issue and possibly get Dorman released.

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  • kermit60 Nov 21, 8:44 a.m.

    It sounds like some sort of game and the DA is doing whatever she needs to do to win. It's all about numbers, Wins vs. Losses. I guess she feels if she gets a conviction then anything she did to get it is justified. Glad she isn't in my county.

  • boneymaroney13 Nov 18, 7:58 p.m.

    That's the problem. She doesn't know what she is doing.

  • potchak Nov 18, 7:45 p.m.

    I'm just wondering why Cline cannot do her job correctly. I think that she had the misfortune of working with Nifong and decided to take after him. In the United States doesn't the burden of proof fall on the State? Any regular citizen would know not to release the body of a victim in a case like this if you wanted justice served for their family. I know if it were my loved one, I would want the DA to have anything they need to convict the murderer. Problem is, Durham DAs do not believe in the Law they are "above the law" and I'm glad that there are judges that interpret the laws as they are written... not like the Durham DAs that believe they write the Laws!

  • boneymaroney13 Nov 18, 7:43 p.m.

    Milkman - You are exactly right. And I had some liberal want to tell me she was appointed, the people didn't elect her. She was not appointed! She ran against Freda Black. Cline had one qualification and the support Durham Committie, PAC groups, and the downtown churches. I said it then and I'll say it now - they did not vote based upon qualifications.

  • boneymaroney13 Nov 18, 7:29 p.m.

    I knew the day Dave Saks (the interim for Mike Nifong) left after Cline was put in office Durham was in for a ride with Tracey Cline. How many other assistant D/A's quit because of Cline? Several. How many did she fire because she was intimidated by their courtroom skills? At least two I know of. One was a seasoned Superior Court prosecutor!!! All these "special interest" groups and PAC's that constantly put people like this in office based upon one requirement should be ashamed!

  • cheezchicken Nov 18, 6:58 p.m.

    Oh brother.

    Children, children. Play nice, now.

  • arfamr1007 Nov 18, 6:52 p.m.

    HeadPro, can you please cite your source for classifying all of Durham a high crime area?
    horns2004

    wral and the daily stories of violent crime.

  • arfamr1007 Nov 18, 6:51 p.m.

    she is racist

  • Nancy Nov 18, 6:38 p.m.

    Cline was second chair to Nifong in the non rape Duke lacrosse non event.

  • Milkman Nov 18, 6:16 p.m.

    In point of fact, Nifong was appointed by Easley, and Cline was elected in a landslide.

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