Durham DA's continued attacks on judge questioned
Posted January 10, 2012
Updated January 15, 2012
Durham, N.C. — Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline is putting her job in jeopardy by repeatedly attacking the integrity of Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, according to lawyers and legal experts.
Cline filed a motion Monday requesting that Hudson recuse himself from presiding over the case of Clint Edward Pollard, who is accused of molesting a boy.
The motion is similar to some she filed in November, when she alleged that Hudson was biased against her and asked that he be barred from hearing criminal cases in Durham County. The judge has criticized Cline's handling of at least two cases in his written rulings.
Another Superior Court judge found no basis for Cline's motion last month, clearing the way for Hudson to handle a request for a new trial from Mike Peterson, a Durham novelist and one-time mayoral candidate who was convicted of killing his wife a decade ago.
"As one famous person once said, it is déjà vu all over again," said James Coleman, the John S. Bradway Professor of Law at Duke University. "Obviously, she is not willing to take 'no' for an answer, and that seems to be what is going on now."
Cline couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment. In the past, she has declined to comment on ongoing cases.
Pollard's attorney, Kerry Sutton, asked that Cline not be allowed to call witnesses in support of the motion, calling it "a dangerous precedent" and noting that Cline has never worked on the case.
"If a prosecutor can successfully seek to bar a judge from sitting on her cases because he has ruled against her ‘one too many times’ or on particular grounds that she objects to, the separation between the judicial and executive branches is breached, and the independence of the judiciary is undermined,” Sutton wrote in her response to the motion.
Durham attorney Scott Holmes, who has been critical of Cline, said he has heard from colleagues who want her removed from office.
"It appears our judicial resources are being used in her own personal dispute with a judge rather than focusing on the important criminal cases that need to be taken care of in Durham," Holmes said. "To file the same thing and expect a different result is inappropriate, unless there is some astounding new allegation.”
The North Carolina State Bar cannot publicly comment on proceedings against an attorney, but the agency recently requested more than 1,250 pages of documents from the Durham County Clerk of Superior Court in recent weeks related to cases Cline cited in her initial complaints against Hudson.
Coleman said Cline's latest filing could increase the State Bar's sense of urgency in taking action, such as suspending Cline's law license.
"I think the judicial system is being damaged by her conduct," he said. "Certainly, the image of the system has been damaged. ... It makes the system look sort of rinky-dink."
Holmes said he would like to see Cline apologize to Hudson and focus on cases. He said he would wait until at least next month to see if the State Bar takes any action before deciding whether to file his own complaint to start a removal process.
"It's a really difficult climate to work in right now for everybody," he said.
Cline also has filed a complaint with the state Judicial Standards Commission over Hudson's actions.