Local News

Durham DA's fate in judge's hands

Posted February 29, 2012

— The future of Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline's career rests in a judge's hands following the conclusion Wednesday of a rare inquiry into whether she should be removed from office.

"I have a lot to mull over, a lot to consider," Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood said, noting he wouldn't rule on the matter before Friday.

Hobgood suspended Cline last month, pending the four-day inquiry, saying there was probable cause to support the notion that she had "brought the office of the Durham County District Attorney and the entire Durham County justice system into disrepute."

Durham attorney Kerry Sutton filed an affidavit last month accusing Cline of improper conduct following Cline's repeated attacks on Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson in recent months.

Cline has alleged in court filings that Hudson is biased against her and her office and asked to have him barred from handling criminal cases in Durham County. Two other judges have found her complaints to be groundless. 

"The context, the subtext, the tone, the tenor (of her comments) is simply unacceptable," Sutton said in her closing argument Wednesday. "We cannot accept that as appropriate behavior from any attorney, let alone an elected district attorney."

Cline testified over two days that she felt she had no choice but to file motions against Hudson, saying his attitude toward her changed in late 2010 after she refused to dismiss a murder case in which man was challenging how state crime lab analysts handled blood evidence.

Hudson dismissed the case anyway and accused Cline in his written order of withholding evidence from the defense attorney. She denies the allegation.

After that, she said, he would repeatedly move cases around on the criminal court docket, making it difficult for prosecutors to prepare. He also dismissed another murder case last year and accused her of conspiring with police and state authorities to destroy evidence. She denies that allegation as well.

"You think I want to be in this position?" Cline asked Monday while undergoing cross-examination. "I did everything I could. It came to a point where, if this continued to happen, it wasn't justice."

Defense attorney Patrick Mincey argued that the case should be dismissed because the state law that allows the effort to remove Cline from office violates her free speech rights. Hobgood said he would reserve judgment on that argument but dismissed another defense motion to toss the case because the law is too vague to be enforced.

Fellow defense attorney James Van Camp said in his closing argument said Cline was only trying to do what she thought was right. If she had remained silent, he said, she might have been removed from office for not doing her job properly.

Sutton countered that Cline was trying to intimidate Hudson into playing by her rules and noted that she has publicly stated she would continue to battle with him "at all costs."

"If you return Ms. Cline to office and end this suspension, this conflict will continue until one of them loses," she said.

Allowing Cline to remain in office also would send a bad message to people statewide, Sutton argued.

"We'll be telling all of our judges in North Carolina that the bar has been set, and they have to accept undignified, discourteous and degrading abuse from prosecutors who don't like their rulings," she said. "We'll be telling the citizens of Durham and the entire state that this is the level of respect and courtesy that they should have for the entire judicial system."

67 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • North Carolina Home Feb 29, 7:09 p.m.

    Tracey Cline was elected by a majority of Durham Co's voting citizens in an election held and certified by the NC Board of Elections.

    She may be inept and unqualified but the voting citizens of Durham Co elected her.

    She is now being "unelected" by a select few under a vague and rarely used statute because apparently, she left the reservation of the Democratic stronghold of Durham Co. by not acquiescing to the request of Orlando Hudson in signing the Racial Justice Act because she had questions about how "race" was being defined.

    She will probably be removed and she will probably appeal.

    Meanwhile, Kerry Sutton, the filer of the affidavit for removal of Tracey Cline and the candidate for Durham Co, Dist 54 NC Senate election has received exposure and name recognition worth heap big money. Just hope her primary opponent requests equal coverage from print & electronic media in the Triangle area.

    Inept Tracey Cline may be but this entire process does not pass the smell test.

  • westernwake1 Feb 29, 6:53 p.m.

    "Classic case of a select few overturning the will of the people when it is "perceived" that the voting populace made a mistake. The will of the people in Durham Co may be suspect but this is a precedent setting case that does not bode well for the state of NC." - North Carolina Home

    Every state in the U.S. has documented state laws on a process on how to remove judges and district attorneys who are not fit to serve. North Carolina is following the process to the letter in this case with all appropriate decorum.

    As outlined in court today - attorneys, judges, and magistrates all over the nation are watching this case to see if a District Attorney can be allowed to get away with making a disgraceful mockery of the justice system. Appropriately removing Cline will demonstrate the answer is "No" and that the North Carolina justice system can take appropriate action to remove unfit officals.

  • North Carolina Home Feb 29, 6:39 p.m.

    "I think we must be very careful when we allow judges to remove elected officials" wbearp

    You are very correct and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Classic case of a select few overturning the will of the people when it is "perceived" that the voting populace made a mistake. The will of the people in Durham Co may be suspect but this is a precedent setting case that does not bode well for the state of NC.

  • mfarmer1 Feb 29, 5:21 p.m.

    "case in which man was challenging how state crime lab analysts handled blood evidence."

    shouldn't that be "A man"?

  • westernwake1 Feb 29, 5:14 p.m.

    "I think we must be very careful when we allow judges to remove elected officials. Can you imagine what would happen to our democratic system if that process started being abused? I watched many hours of this testimony and while she admitted she could have used better wording in her complaints against Hudson I just don't see misconduct rising to the level of removing her from office. That's just my opinion." - wbearp

    Does the fact that all the written exhibits submitted into evidence demonstrate that nearly everything she asserted on the stand is not factual - alter your opinion in any manner?

    This is not a case merely about admitting "she could have used better wording in her complaints".

    Do you want nearly criminal case in Durham overturned because the DA regularly submits information that is not truthful to the courts? If she stays in office - this is the future. Did you notice the entire courtroom was full of defense attorneys waiting to file appeals for their clients?

  • wbearp Feb 29, 4:47 p.m.

    I think we must be very careful when we allow judges to remove elected officials. Can you imagine what would happen to our democratic system if that process started being abused? I watched many hours of this testimony and while she admitted she could have used better wording in her complaints against Hudson I just don't see misconduct rising to the level of removing her from office. That's just my opinion.

  • westernwake1 Feb 29, 4:46 p.m.

    "I WOULD LIKE TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS TO JUDGE HUDSON FOR TRYING TO PUSH A DA INTO SIGNING THE RACIAL JUSTICE ACT!" - rlee1117

    Considering that ALL of her other assertions were proven to be fabricated in this hearing; I would expect that her allegation that Judge Hudson "pushed" her into signing the racial justice act (which is not backed by any written evidence or testimony of others) is false.

  • methinks Feb 29, 4:41 p.m.

    I agree with rlee1117; I want to see what happens to Hudson now. Not only for the Racial Justice Act, but for dismissing a case because the ME release the remains to the family. He dismissed that case because he accused the DA and others of destroying evidence. What was the ME suppose to do, keep the body until who knows when?? They always release the remains of victims to the family once autopsy is complete. That was a flag for me about Hudson's conduct. I still say they both should go.

  • aoakley336 Feb 29, 4:28 p.m.

    Nifong now Cline... Wow, the people of Durham pick some real winners for DA.

  • rlee1117 Feb 29, 4:23 p.m.

    I WOULD LIKE TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS TO JUDGE HUDSON FOR TRYING TO PUSH A DA INTO SIGNING THE RACIAL JUSTICE ACT! IS THAT PROPER FOR A JUDGE TO PUSH HIE POWER AROUND IN THIS MANNER? I SAY IF SHE GOES SO DOES THE JUDGE! SORRY PEEPS BUT HE WAS WAY CROSS THE LINE WHICH IMO IS WHERE THIS ALL STARTED.

More...