Durham, N.C. — Gov. Beverly Perdue on Wednesday named a retired Superior Court judge to oversee the Durham County District Attorney's Office until an effort to remove the top prosecutor from office is resolved.
Judge Leon Stanback will serve as district attorney on an interim basis. If District Attorney Tracey Cline is removed from office, a special election would be held in November to pick someone to the two years remaining on her term.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood last week suspended Cline with pay pending a Feb. 13 hearing.
Cline's accusations of bias against Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson put her own performance under scrutiny in recent months and led one defense attorney to push for her ouster.
Stanback served as a Superior Court judge from 1989 until his retirement in 2009. He also served as a member of the North Carolina Parole Commission and an assistant district attorney in Guilford County.
"I just want to make sure that the office runs smoothly and cases are continuing to get disposed of in a timely basis," he said.
There was no word on when Stanback would be sworn in, but attorneys at the Durham County Courthouse said they are eager to have him on the job.
"The governor couldn't have appointed a more qualified, more capable person," attorney Butch Williams said.
"He knows Durham. He knows our community. He knows the law really well. He's thoughtful, and so, he just brings a real depth and breadth of experience to that position that's much needed during this difficult time," attorney Scott Holmes said.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried said Stanback "has always been held in high esteem," and he predicted that "work will go on as usual" in the District Attorney's Office.
Attorney Kerry Sutton filed an affidavit last month alleging that Cline has "brought the office of the Durham County District Attorney and the entire Durham County justice system into disrepute."
The filing is the first step required by law to remove Cline from office.
Cline has repeatedly accused Hudson in recent months of bias against her and has asked to have him barred from handling criminal cases in Durham County. Two other Superior Court judges have found Cline's complaints to be groundless.
Hudson, the chief judge in Durham County, turned the complaint over to Hobgood.
”There’s been a lot of negative publicity, but I think the staff is very confident, and they have always been excellent to work with when I was on the bench," Stanback said. "I don’t see that as having changed.”
Hudson said Wednesday that Stanback "will bring a lot of integrity to the District Attorney's Office."
Because he retired three years ago, Stanback "doesn't have a dog in the fight" between Hudson and Cline, Williams said.
"He can be more of a salve on a wound and bring about some healing and bring about also a calming influence," Williams said. "Today is the first day of the rest of our lives in the courthouse, so to speak, and Judge Stanback will be very good at turning things around and making us all pleased to come to work there again."