Embattled DA called to witness stand

Durham DA Tracey Cline takes witness stand Friday

February 24, 2012 7:54:59 PM PST
Four days after a Durham attorney made the case for why Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline should be permanently removed from office, the embattled DA's attorneys called her to the witness stand during a special hearing Friday.

Cline explained to the court her background before addressing typed court motions she filed, which have been referenced in the inquiry against her.

Cline was suspended with pay after Durham Attorney Kerry Sutton filed an 11-page affidavit last month charging Cline has damaged the court system's reputation by making unfounded accusations of misconduct against the county's senior criminal judge.

Within minutes of Friday's hearing beginning, Cline's attorneys filed several motions to dismiss the inquiry against her arguing that her First Amendment rights were being violated and that the law to remove an elected official was too vague and misapplied in this case.

Judge Robert Hobgood, who is presiding over the special hearing, denied all the motions after a brief argument from Cline's attorney James Van Camp and Attorney Stephen Lindsay.

"In regards to a judge's ruling lawyers are asked to deal with in a professional manner," Lindsay said.

"Here we go again, this not a disciplinary hearing, this is the removal of a constitutionally elected official," Van Camp said. "The statute on its face is vague. I can tell you that it's vague, procedurally vague and why we're here. It's unconstitutional."

The question Judge Hobgood ultimately has to decide is whether Cline's ongoing feud with Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson has brought her office into disrepute, specifically statements Cline has made in court motions and in court proceedings.

Page by page Monday, Sutton used a projection screen to highlight strong language Cline used in her judicial standards complaint against Hudson. She accused him of "moral turpitude" ... "dishonesty and corruption," saying that he's acted like a "monarch" ... "repeatedly raping" crime victims.

The DA had been feuding with Judge Hudson for months and accused him of bias against her in cases. Cline even asked that he be barred from hearing criminal cases in Durham County in a complaint to the Judicial Standards Commission.

"Judge Hudson explained to me this is a very high profile case you don't need to represent or defend the SBI. This case needs to go away and you need to dismiss it," Cline recalled while on the witness said Friday. "At that time, I felt like he had not read the file."

Cline's testimony focused on the Derrick Allen case, a murder case, she said, she refused to dismiss and because of that believed Hudson launched a personal attack against her and was part of a wide-ranging conspiracy including defense lawyers, the media, and others who were colluding to make her look bad.

In December 2010, Judge Hudson tossed out the case against Allen, who had faced murder and sexual assault charges in the 1998 death of his then-girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter. He said in his order that DNA testing in the case was intentionally misleading.

Such proceedings to remove an elected DA are very rare in North Carolina, having been held only once before in the 1990s. Governor Beverly Perdue named retired Superior Court Judge A. Leon Stanback, Jr. as the interim replacement for Cline pending the outcome of the effort to remove her.

The hearing resumes on Monday at 9:30 a.m. Cline will be cross-examined by Sutton and Lindsay.

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