Economy takes bite out of crime fighting

DURHAM New District Attorney Tracey Cline says a hiring freeze has left her office with fewer prosecutors to try violent crime cases. Cline talked with Eyewitness News Thursday about the enormous caseload in Durham County and her recent decision to invite her former boss Mike Nifong to her swearing-in ceremony.

In an office sometimes plagued by scandal, Cline she's ready to step out of the shadow of the infamous Duke Lacrosse case.

"What happened with Duke Lacrosse wounded Durham County. It hurt everybody. The bottom line is it's not a wound that won't heal, and it is healing and the healing process is moving forward," offered Cline.

But a symbol of the past - Mike Nifong - was on hand for Cline's swearing-in ceremony this week.

"I came because I got a personal invitation," he told Eyewitness News.

"I invited everybody and I know the focus is going to be on Mr. Nifong," said Cline.

If there was a message behind Nifong's appearance, Cline says it was about unity. She invited her supporters and critics alike - even the attorneys who ran against her.

"We have to realize in Durham County, we cannot function successfully to fight crime unless we come together," she said.

Cline admits the battle won't be easy. Her office is down one prosecutor who would focus on violent offenses and there's a hiring freeze thanks to the economy.

"So, personnel - having enough bodies, warm bodies - to do the work is a major problem. The assistant district attorneys will be stressed with an extensive case load. That's why Cline says she routinely meets with Durham police. She's also enlisted the help of a veteran police investigator.

If there's anything she's learned from the turbulent past, it's while justice is blind, she must remain transparent..

"Whether people like it or not, you do what's right and then you don't have to explain what you've done because it's the right thing and that's the bottom line as a prosecutor," Cline offered.

We also asked Cline about the Duke Lacrosse case. We wanted to know if she believed the woman who accused the Duke players of raping her and her thoughts on how her former boss handled the case. Cline declined to comment.

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