Former Durham DA fights to keep her license
Posted June 4, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Three years after she was ousted as Durham County District Attorney, Tracey Cline found herself in another courtroom Thursday as she tries to hang on to her law license.
A disciplinary panel of the North Carolina State Bar began a hearing in Raleigh to determine if Cline violated rules of professional conduct for attorneys.
"I know prosecutors ... who have hedged the line. I did not do that," she told the three-member panel.
The State Bar accuses her of getting an investigator for her office to file bogus motions seeking the prison visitation records of three inmates, never telling the prisoners or their lawyers about the filings and lying to a judge to get the motions signed.
Darrell Brown, a Durham police investigator who works with the District Attorney's Office, testified that Cline asked him to request the inmates' visitor logs and told him that it was because the inmates were seeking to get their convictions overturned.
When Cline questioned Brown, however, he said he didn't recall what she told him when requesting the visitor logs and that he had used draft language he got from another investigator in the office to put the motions together.
In depositions videotaped in prison in late 2012, all three inmates said they were never told that Cline wanted their visitor records until after the court orders had been signed.
"I was pretty much confused as to why she would request that," said Keith Kidwell, who was convicted of murder in 2009.
"I felt it was an unfair procedure. I thought I should have some way to protect my privacy rights," said David Yearwood, who is serving a 31-year sentence for first-degree sex offense.
Cline took the stand in her own defense and tried to explain the reasons behind the request for prison visitor logs, saying it began with Yearwood's case and a series of newspaper stories in September 2011 accusing her of prosecutorial misconduct.
One story noted a sealed document in Yearwood's court file that included evidence of Cline making misstatements in court and withholding evidence, she said. Her efforts to figure out where the information came from and to get her hands on the document kept running into brick walls, she said.
"My hope was to try to find out what was going on and why I was being accused of prosecutorial misconduct," she said. "There was a serious accusation of a pattern of misconduct that spanned four or five cases, and I absolutely was trying to get to the bottom of it to do some investigation and respond to this. I could not get any information from anybody."
Cline said she never told Brown or anyone else to get information about the "pre-approved list" for inmates' visitors, although that request was included in each motion, and she said she wanted information for Yearwood alone.
Margaret Cloutier, am attorney with the State Bar, noted that Cline admitted she didn't inform the inmates or their lawyers about the motions and that the statements in the motions didn't jibe with the facts of the inmates' cases at the time.
"Somebody told these people what the motions ought to say," Cloutier told the panel. "What she chose to say wasn't true, and she knew it."
The disciplinary panel has already determined that Cline's criticism of Superior Court Judge Hudson in late 2011 and early 2012 violated various conduct rules. Those criticisms led to her being removed from office in March 2012.
The disciplinary panel plans to deliberate Friday morning to determine whether her actions regarding the inmate visitor logs also violated the code of conduct. Then, the members will hear evidence as they try to determine an appropriate punishment for her.