Lawyer: Durham DA seen as 'out of control'
Posted February 20, 2012
DURHAM, N.C. — 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."
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.”