State News

Lawyer: Durham DA seen as 'out of control'

Posted February 20, 2012

— Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline's repeated attacks on a judge have undermined public perception of the court system, two lawyers said Monday in a hearing to decide whether she should be removed from office.

Defense attorney Kerry Sutton filed an affidavit last month that alleges Cline has "brought the office of the Durham County District Attorney and the entire Durham County justice system into disrepute."

Cline has repeatedly accused Superior Court Judge Orlando 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.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood suspended Cline with pay last month, pending a full hearing, saying there was probable cause to support Sutton's claims.

Cline's attorney, James Van Camp, will present evidence on her behalf on Friday.

Sutton began Monday's hearing by having Staples Hughes, director of the state Appellate Defender Office, read excerpts of motions Cline filed since last fall seeking to have Hudson removed from cases.

In the motions, she said the judge has "the reprobate mind of a monarch," said his conduct involved "moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption," that his actions "raped" crime victims and "kidnapped the rights of victims and their families" and that his only goal was "to demean the district attorney at all costs."

Hughes said he has never seen any motion that made such allegations without any supporting evidence, and he said lawyers in the Triangle now question Cline's competency.

"It's regarded that she's simply, for whatever reason, completely out of control," he said. "I do not ... trust Ms. Cline's judgment in prosecuting cases in this judicial district. I think it utterly undercuts her credibility and the trust the public should feel in their prosecutor."

Tracey Cline with attorney Witnesses attack Durham DA's credibility

Van Camp objected to Hughes giving his opinion on the motions, comparing his conversations with others and his thoughts on media coverage of Cline's actions to a witch hunt.

"We get into an election process. How many people are on this side, and how many people are on that side?" Van Camp said.

Hobgood previously said the hearing would focus on Cline's written and verbal statements, but he allowed witnesses to offer their opinions of Cline's actions.

Thomas Maher, executive director of the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services, testified that the tone of Cline's accusations caused him to question her motives.

"They are very inflammatory accusations," Maher said. "The fact that accusations like that would be made without factual support casts serious doubt about how the office is operating and how justice is being administered in Durham."

Proceedings to remove an elected district attorney are rare in North Carolina, having been held only once before in the 1990s. The inquiry is expected to last several days.

David Ball, a jury consultant, testified that the attacks on Hudson undermine his authority and raise questions among potential jurors about the district attorney's office.

”The less respect there is for judges, the more free (jurors) feel to impose their own laws," Ball said. "It gives people an excuse to apply their own law rather than to follow the law."

Ball said Cline could have handled her dispute with Hudson privately instead of airing them in public court records.

"We want the DA’s office to be seen as impeccable, and at this point, it is not here," he said. "If you undermine the confidence in the DA’s office, you make it harder for the DA to get just convictions.”

162 Comments

This story is closed for comments. Comments on WRAL.com news stories are accepted and moderated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Oldest First
View all
  • renaissancemon Feb 22, 10:55 a.m.

    "The law plainly states that your vote was improper, and should not be counted."

    It must be nice to pick and choose which votes to count. Who told the legislature they could do that? Doesn't the supreme law say that only the Constitution can restrict whom the voters may elect?

    > You are saying that no candidate was allowed to oppose her.

    I'm saying no VOTER was allowed to oppose her HIRING. I concede your trivial point that some voters (only Dems and Unaffiliateds) were allowed to oppose her being printed on the November ballot. That was a printing decision, not a hiring decision.

    "you chose not to vote in the primary."

    False, but irrelevant anyway. My point is that her being awarded the DA seat was determined by statute, not by ballot. The moment at which the number of possible winners in her race decreased to one (her), was noon on August 5, 2010. (Per NCGS 163-123(c) & (f).) That was before a single November ballot was printed, much less cast.

  • Ken D. Feb 22, 8:55 a.m.

    "Obey the law, count my vote."

    Sorry, but you are going to have to pick one or the other. The law plainly states that your vote was improper, and should not be counted.

    "She ran unopposABLE."

    You are saying that no candidate was allowed to oppose her. That is simply wrong. She was opposed in her party's primary, the opposition party CHOSE not to field a candidate, and no individual chose to run against her. Those were all free choices. You chose not to run, and you chose not to vote in the primary. You can't blame that on anybody else.

  • renaissancemon Feb 22, 8:18 a.m.

    "Your claim that her election was rigged is just your belief that election officials should not have followed North Carolina law."

    No it is based on the fact that the vote tally was openly falsified. Since when does the law of a free country allow that?

    "Work to have the law changed."

    Obey the law, count my vote. Don't rob me of my say in controlling policy and then tell me to work to change policy.

    "She ran unopposed"

    She ran unopposABLE. I opposed her in the voting booth but my opposition was censored. The decision for my guy to lose was made by statute, not by the voters. She was declared the only possible winner before ballots were printed.

    "you could have followed the statutes and sought to run"

    I should not have to "run" just to have my vote counted. You didn't have to do that to get your vote counted. I'm supposed to have the same entitlement to a counted vote that you have.

    Rigged elections give us disasters like Cline.

  • westernwake1 Feb 21, 7:54 p.m.

    "I will go back to my original statement....this does not pass the smell test." - North Carolina Home

    What does not pass the smell test is the behavior of Tracey Cline while in office. Her abuse of the justice system as outlined by the Twisted Truth series is reprehensible.

    http://www.newsobserver.com/twistedtruth/

    These are the reasons Tracey Cline is being removed from office. It is good to see that a lawyer with integrity such as Kerry Sutton who is focused on what is best for the justice system is willing to take the time and effort to drive the filing and proceedings as per the statues under state law to remove a DA.

  • North Carolina Home Feb 21, 5:35 p.m.

    westernwake, I will go back to my original statement....this does not pass the smell test.

    Kerry Sutton should have allowed multiple lawyers other than herself to file this affidavit to "start the process" as it were. Her candidacy for public office tarnishes her credibility completely.

  • westernwake1 Feb 21, 2:49 p.m.

    "As for bringing disrepute to the court and DA's office, Mike Nifong did that before Cline's tenure."

    And Mike Nifong resigned from the DA's office when he was being disbarred. There were multiple lawyers preparing filings to have him removed under this state law statue when he resigned.

    Tracey Cline should take the hint from Nifong and resign.

  • Ken D. Feb 21, 1:59 p.m.

    "I didn't say she did. I said her election to office was rigged."

    Your claim that her election was "rigged" is based 100% on your belief that election officials should not have followed North Carolina law. You don't like the law. I get that. Work to have it changed. But don't claim that election officials who follow it are corrupt.

    She ran unopposed in the general election. That wasn't her choice. If you felt so strongly about it, you could have followed the statutes and sought to run either as a Republican or a write-in candidate.

  • westernwake1 Feb 21, 1:43 p.m.

    "So we should just let elected DA's who turn up to be insane and destroying the justice system to simply stay in office? I find this assertion to be profoundly disturbing."

    'Your words, westernwake, not mine. If you are not referencing Cline then please share what other DA in this state is at risk of being removed from their duly elected office by this obscure statute?' - North Carolina Home

    My comment was in reference to the North Carolina Statue allowing a DA to be removed from office; not the Cline case in particular. It was (as others can see) a response to you stating that removing a DA should not be allowed.

    There have been a number of DA's removed from office over time due to this statue in state law. WRAL has covered some of the past cases in articles. The last DA removed using this statue was the DA Jerry Spivey in New Hanover County. The other DA's in the state who faced court based on this statue (or being disbarred) wisely resigned before the case got to court.

  • North Carolina Home Feb 21, 1:10 p.m.

    Also, it was conveniently left out of the timeline of events published by print & electronic media that Kerry Sutton's affidavit followed her announced intention to run for Durham's NC Senate District 54. By her own statements, she is a single mother with limited financial resources (Indy blog)with no name recognition in Person & Caswell county. She could not buy the media exposure that this hearing affords.

    I don't give a happy hoot about Durham Co politics but I sure give a hoot about the precedent being set of removing a duly elected official with political games at their root.

    She may be the worst DA that ever held office in history. She was elected with 46% of the vote in a primary election with 4 candidates. This is substantial and if Durham Co voters picked the wrong candidate, it is their bad choice to live with until the next election.

    As for bringing disrepute to the court and DA's office, Mike Nifong did that before Cline's tenure.

  • North Carolina Home Feb 21, 12:55 p.m.

    "So we should just let elected DA's who turn up to be insane and destroying the justice system to simply stay in office? I find this assertion to be profoundly disturbing."

    Your words, westernwake, not mine. If you are not referencing Cline then please share what other DA in this state is at risk of being removed from their duly elected office by this obscure statute?

More...