Legal experts: Durham court feud an 'embarrassment'
Posted November 21, 2011
Updated November 22, 2011
Durham, N.C. — Legal experts say the ongoing feud between Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline and Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson will create chaos with the criminal caseload at the Durham County Courthouse.
Cline filed a motion last week asking that Hudson be barred from hearing criminal cases in Durham. She accused him of corruption and being biased against her, saying his decision to dismiss murder charges in two cases amounted to "raping" crime victims.
The motion followed Hudson's criticisms of Cline in recent months. He said she withheld evidence in one case and worked to destroy evidence in another.
”I have seen and have been guilty of intemperate comments, but I usually try not to make them in the open,” former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell said Monday, calling the feud "an embarrassment.”
Cline's motion is unprecedented, Mitchell said, and it will impact judicial proceedings far beyond cases involving Cline and Hudson.
"It will also make it difficult on the assistant DAs who have to come into court,” he said. "It just will leave everybody on pins and needles, I’m afraid, and it’s really hard on the system.”
Hudson is scheduled to hear criminal cases in Wake County through the end of December and in Orange and Chatham counties for the first six months of 2012, so Durham County's court schedule shouldn't see major impacts in the near future, trial court administrator Kathy Shuart said.
Hudson is scheduled to hear an appeal from convicted killer Mike Peterson on Dec. 5, and Cline is expected to be involved in the case.
Cline has filed a complaint with the state Judicial Standards Commission over Hudson's actions, and Duke University law professor James Coleman said he wouldn't be surprised if the North Carolina State Bar looks at her attack for possible ethical violations.
"Lawyers don't file pleadings like that," Coleman said. "That’s not the kind of language that lawyers use. That’s not the kind of language that an elected district attorney would ever use in any circumstance.”
He said he thought Cline's motion was an out-of-season April Fool's joke when he first heard of it.
"If you are going to make those allegations, you better be able to prove them and prove them in spades,” Mitchell said. "It’s serious allegations against a judge.”
Irving Joyner, a law professor at North Carolina Central University, said Cline's motion to bar Hudson from cases will fail because no other judge has the power to diminish his ability to carry out his duties from the bench.
"For all practical purposes, the motion seeks to remove the judge's powers to act as a judge, a process that present North Carolina law does not contemplate," Joyner said, adding that Cline should have simply let the Judicial Standards Commission review Hudson's actions.
Coleman said Cline could even lose her job over the dispute, noting the ill will she has created has destroyed any effectiveness she had as a district attorney.
"It’s very difficult for the office, it seems to me, certainly to deal with Judge Hudson and probably to deal with any of the judges here in Durham," he said. "I think that she has damaged her office. She’s damaged the victims that she claims to be acting on behalf of. You don’t do something like this.”