Critics grill embattled Durham DA

Durham DA Tracey Cline takes witness stand Friday

February 27, 2012 3:49:44 PM PST
Durham D.A. Tracey Cline was back in the hot seat as critics who say she's not fit for office cross-examined 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.

A special hearing into the inquiry continued Monday with two defense lawyers, who initiated complaints against Cline, asking her questions under oath about her ongoing feud with Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, specifically statements Cline has made in court motions and in court proceedings.

Attorneys went over Cline's testimony from Friday with a fine-toothed comb and tried to poke holes in her allegations.

The suspended DA maintained she never withheld evidence or information in any of the cases she has been scrutinized for.

Cline pointed to what she believed was a continued bias on the part of Judge Hudson. She said he assigned himself to cases and failed to notify her and her staff of scheduling changes, specifically in the court cases of Defense Attorney Lisa Williams.

Williams is an attorney Cline has alleged conspired with Hudson and the News & Observer to publicly discredit her.

"It would be impossible for me to go through every file in the case," Cline said. "These were cases that were inconsistent with the CMS rules. I could tell Judge Hobgood ... is that Judge Hudson took these cases off the calendar and wouldn't allow them to be heard if I looked at every case that Ms. Williams got Judge Hudson to take them off the calendar. [sic]"

Later in the day, a mother of a crime victim, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez and an attorney were called to the witness stand to testify to Cline's character and leadership.

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.

Now, veteran Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ultimately has to decide whether Cline's actions brought her office into disrepute and undermined public confidence in the justice system. If so, he could permanently remove her.

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.

Closing arguments are expected Wednesday and Cline could learn if she gets to keep her job on Friday.

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