Judge could rule on Durham DA's removal Friday

Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline in court
February 29, 2012 10:26:11 AM PST
Judge Robert Hobgood has heard the arguments, now he must decide if Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline should be removed from her post.

Hobgood is facing the decision after a defense attorney filed an unusual motion seeking Cline's removal, saying her ongoing dispute with Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson was bringing the county court system into disrepute.

Cline has been feuding with Hudson for months and has accused him of bias against her in cases. Cline has even called the judge dishonest and corrupt - and asked that he be barred from hearing criminal cases in Durham County in a complaint to the Judicial Standards Commission.

Cline has been suspended since last month, pending the outcome of the removal hearing. Judge Hobgood heard closing arguments Wednesday from both sides.

He denied several motions Cline's attorneys made to dismiss the inquiry case based on vague and insufficient evidence. They had argued the proceeding violated First Amendment rights and involved false statements and malice.

Cline took the stand in her defense on Friday and Monday, saying she thought her criticism of Hudson was for the greater good of the community. Her attorneys argued that the embattled DA could have remained silent, but chose to speak out against what she believed was a serious problem.

"The evidence shows she was defending her office," Cline's attorney Patrick Mincey said. "Her perception crystallized over months of dealings with Judge Hudson required her to defend the position of her office ... her office was under attack and the Supreme court says a person in that position must be afforded the opportunity to defend her office when it's been criticized."

However, the attorney who filed the removal petition against the suspended DA offered that Cline was aware of the professional rules of conduct and still decided to violate those rules with strong language in court motions that accused Durham's top judge of dishonesty and corruption.

"Cline's speech was not protected by the First Amendment, because the DA's conduct was objectively unreasonable and we ask you to deny that motion," Kerry Sutton said.

Just before the court recessed, Hobgood said he would wait to rule on the motions to dismiss based on the free speech and whether there was adequate evidence presented to show malice. The judge said he would decide whether Cline gets to keep her job on Friday.

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