Cline takes reins as Durham DA
Posted January 5, 2009 4:50 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — A longtime prosecutor took the oath of Durham County district attorney Monday, becoming the first black woman to hold the post.
Tracey Cline, a sex crimes prosecutor in the 14th Judicial District for more than a decade, won the district attorney position during the May primary with 46 percent of the vote, beating out three other Democratic challengers.
Because no Republican sought the position, she ran uncontested during November's general election.
Cline replaces David Saacks, whom Gov. Mike Easley appointed to the position in September 2007 to serve out the remainder of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong's term.
Nifong, who was at Monday's ceremony, resigned two months earlier in July after being disbarred for breaking more than two dozen rules of professional conduct for the way he handled the Duke University lacrosse case.
It centered on three players of the school's highly ranked men's team who were accused of raping an exotic dancer.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper later dismissed the case and declared the three men "innocent victims" of a prosecutor's "tragic rush to judgment."
Cline said Monday that she is ready to take on the challenge of overcoming the scandal, which put the Durham District Attorney's Office under public scrutiny.
Durham County, she said, is ready to move forward and as district attorney, she said she can help do that.
"Being a prosecutor is not about power, it's about doing the right thing," Cline said. "You don't have to be popular to be DA. You have to do the right thing, and that's what people are looking for. And I'm going to do that."
During her campaign, Cline said the Duke lacrosse case was one of thousands the district attorney's office handled and that although it did not define the office, it is a part of the city's history.
"I don't think we can separate ourselves from it," she said in an April interview. "I think we can learn from it and move on."
Among her family, friends and colleagues were Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin, who served for 11 years as district attorney before being appointed to a judgeship in 2005.
Hardin said Cline – his first hire as district attorney – is hardworking and that he is very pleased that she will serve in the position.
North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson, who administered the oath of office, said Cline, as a young public defender in Fayetteville, stood out to her when she served as a District Court judge because of her thoroughness and ability to think on her feet.
Meanwhile Monday, Saacks was also presented with an award from the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys for what director Peg Dorer said was bringing an even keel to the job.