DURHAM — Suspended District Attorney Tracey Cline unpacked her history with Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson during testimony this morning, saying she considered him a mentor but in recent years didn’t agree with his judgment in certain cases and requests he made of her.
Cline, 48, is at the center of a rare inquiry to determine whether she can keep her job. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood is determining whether her behavior is “prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute.” She is being scrutinized for her attacks on Hudson, which critics have called inflammatory.
As Cline testified, she recounted a meeting in December 2010 in which Hudson called her to his office for a meeting along with some defense attorneys pursuing efforts to abolish the death penalty because of racial bias concerns. Cline said Hudson asked her to sign a consent order saying that district attorneys across the state had inappropriately used race as a basis for picking juries in capital murder trials.
Cline said she did not feel comfortable signing the order because she didn’t want to say other districts were somehow using race as a factor because she didn’t have personal knowledge of those cases.
Cline also recounted a case in which she says Hudson urged her to dismiss charges. Cline said that Hudson told her the case, highlighted in an audit detailing problems in the SBI’s reports on blood evidence, was high-profile and that she shouldn’t put herself in a position to defend problems at the SBI.
“He told me ‘this case needs to go away and you need to dismiss it,'” Cline said. “I honestly felt like he had not read the file.”
Hudson eventually dismissed the charges against Allen, despite Cline’s attempts to move forward.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood is considering whether Cline’s attacks on Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson crossed the line and brought undue damage to the District Attorney’s office.
Cline, known to be an impassioned prosecutor who entrances juries, spoke calmly and quietly this morning.
Cline testified this morning that she considered Hudson a role model.
“I looked up to him and cared about him, still do very much,” Cline said.
Cline said she met Hudson in 1989 when she was a brand-new lawyer working as an assistant public defender in Fayetteville. Hudson, too, had worked in that office.
Cline said that she didn’t always agree with Hudson’s ruling but that she had understood them and considered them fair.
Cline’s troubles are unusual. Only once has a North Carolina district attorney been ousted through the state law establishing such inquiries and giving a judge the power to find that a DA is not fit for duty.
Hobgood denied several motions this morning by Cline’s attorneys to suspend the inquiry because the law was vague and Cline had been denied her due process. He has yet to rule on a motion to throw out the case because Cline’s statements were protected by the first amendment right to free speech.
Cline has used language in her motions to remove Hudson from her case that critics call inflammatory. Among the criticisms against Hudson, Cline accused him of having a “reprobate mind of a monarch” and of “raping” victims with his rulings.
Hobgood, the senior judge for a four-county region northeast of Durham, could remove Cline as soon as today from the position she first won in 2008.
The law that has been invoked to seek Cline’s removal describes a range of behaviors that, if a judge finds exist, requires the DA’s removal. It has happened only once before, in the mid-1990s, when a DA in southeastern North Carolina used a racial slur in a barroom altercation at a beach nightclub.
Lawyers for the DA, Jerry Spivey, argued at the time that the law was not constitutional and that Spivey had a First Amendment right to use the words he did. The state Supreme Court disagreed. The issues raised by Cline’s lawyers are not precisely the same as in the Spivey case, however.
On Monday, Durham lawyer Kerry Sutton, who initiated efforts to remove Cline from office, presented evidence and arguments, calling upon other lawyers to testify about their assessment of Cline’s behavior and its effects on the court.
Those associates, namely Appellate Defender Staples Hughes and Director of Indigent DefenseServices Tom Maher, said that Cline couldn’t be trusted to remain in office.
“I’ve just never even heard anything like that,” Hughes testified Monday. “It is regarded that she’s simply, for whatever reason, completely out of control.”
Cline, the daughter of two pastors, is known as a fierce prosecutor.
She testified this morning that her parents had no formal education, and they were determined their children be educated.
She started her career as a public defender in 1989, but in 1993, she switched sides and became a prosecutor. Cline came to Durham in March 1994 as an assistant district attorney and has spent most of her career prosecuting those charged with the most violent offenses. She briefly left the office for private practice, and once pursued a judgeship, before returning to prosecute cases.