Cline controversy could come up at State Bar meeting

Durham DA Tracey Cline

January 23, 2012 4:53:07 PM PST
The North Carolina State Bar is scheduled to hold high-level meetings in downtown Raleigh this week and ABC11 has learned the topic of embattled Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline could come up.

A spokesperson for the bar said, by law, it can't discuss whether it's conduction an investigation and has yet to confirm whether Cline is under review. Bar officials says they want to assure the public they take every complaint seriously.

"...when the State Bar learns from any source that questions are being raised about whether a lawyer has engaged in conduct that violates the Rules of Professional Conduct, the State Bar's Office of Counsel will open a grievance file. One of the eleven lawyers in the Office of Counsel who investigates allegations of professional misconduct will investigate the situation and submit a report and recommendation to the Grievance Committee. The Grievance Committee will take appropriate action," Katherine Jean explained.

Cline is involved in a feud with Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson - who she has accused of bias against her in cases. Cline has even called Hudson dishonest and corrupt. Critics say Cline's actions are undermining the integrity of the court.

Legal experts say it's possible the courthouse controversy has been on the Bar's radar for a while.

"There've been some very specific things that she's done that have been inappropriate. You don't need a lot of time to deal with that. But, the other side of that is she's done a lot of stuff. If they're looking at everything, it's going to take time," explained Duke Law professor James Coleman.

Last week, Durham lawyer Kerry Sutton filed an 11-page affidavit asking a judge to determine if Cline should be removed from her office. Sutton said ongoing attacks Cline has made against Judge Hudson are grounds for her removal.

Cline has denied any wrongdoing in the past. She did not respond to our request for comment Monday.

Durham's chief resident judge must decide whether Sutton's complaint has merit and if so, there eventually could be a hearing.

But, first Judge Hudson himself has to decide if he'll handle the affidavit calling for Cline's removal, or if he'll request another judge to step in. So far, no decision has been made on who will handle the complaint to determine if Cline should be suspended or removed.

Either way, the clock is ticking. The unusual filing has a 30-day deadline.

Experts say it is very rare for a D.A. to be removed. Typically, the State Bar - the agency that disciplines lawyers - handles complaints.

While the Bar doesn't have the authority to remove an elected district attorney, Professor Coleman said Monday it has some options.

"What the Bar can do is to make a judgment about her behavior and whether it's been inconsistent with her obligations as a lawyer," Coleman explained.

"Some of the things she has done are things I think that could result in the Bar concluding that she's acted in violation of Rules of Professional Responsibility. That could take disciplinary action," he continued.

Among possible penalties, the Bar could take away Cline's law license. Then, she could be removed for not having a license.

Coleman said Cline's attitude is troubling.

"She seems to have dug in her heels and won't take no for answer and seems to me, in that circumstance, somebody has to stop her," he offered.

While Cline has not commented to ABC11, she told The Durham Herald Sun last week that her attempt to get Judge Hudson removed from her cases will go on "at all costs."

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