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Monday, February 27, 2012

Judge could rule by Friday on whether Durham DA keeps job

Posted by on Mon, Feb 27, 2012 at 6:28 PM

Lawyer Stephen Lindsay, left, questions suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline on the witness stand.

For live updates during Cline's removal hearing, follow @indyweek on Twitter and join the conversation using #TraceyCline. Updates will resume beginning at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 29.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood expects to rule by Friday on whether suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline should keep her job, he said.

Cline and others, including a Durham lawyer, a judge and the chief of police, testified in her defense in court Monday. Cline could lose her job because of actions she took last fall to prevent Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson from presiding over her criminal court cases. Hudson is biased, Cline asserted in lengthy court documents, and had been retaliating against her by ruling against her in court.

It was the second day that Cline sat on the witness stand and recounted the events leading up to her decision to file court motions to remove Hudson from her cases due to a conflict of interest. Last week, she faced questions from her own defense attorneys. Monday, Cline faced tougher queries from attorney Stephen Lindsay on a cross examination.

Lindsay is assisting Durham defense attorney Kerry Sutton, who filed a complaint in January saying Cline's actions had violated rules of conduct for attorneys, and that her actions brought Durham's justice system into disrepute. He, exclusively, questioned Cline, and the embattled prosecutor often gave long-winded and circuitous answers to Lindsay's yes-or-no questions.

Cline and Lindsay quibbled for several minutes even when Lindsay asked her whether she could agree that, generally, she had handled the responsibilities of her job well during her first few years in office. Cline disputed the assessment, saying it was a team effort, not just her own.

Lindsay often appeared frustrated, his eyes rolling up in his head as he walked back and forth between the witness stand and his seat. He frequently addressed Cline without looking at her. At one point, Cline questioned whether he was paying attention as he chatted with Sutton.

"Are you listening to me?" she asked.

Cline used her hours on the witness stand to repeatedly bring her comments back to her own defense, repeatedly stating that she did what she felt she had to do in the interest of justice. She said that although her words were harsh, she doesn't regret filing the motions—it had to be done, she said.

"Even though this has been difficult has been difficult, I promised to do what was right," Cline said from the witness stand. "And after doing all that I could do, I had to protect the people of Durham county.

After Cline left the stand, her lawyers called several witnesses who made brief statements.

Durham attorney Bill Cotter said he wouldn't have chosen the same words that Cline did in her court motions, but that he didn't feel her actions brought the DA's office into disrepute.

"What most people who know anything about it think is it’s a quarrel between two people," Cotter said.

Police Chief Jose Lopez also said he didn't think Cline's actions had put the DA's office in a bad light, he said in brief testimony.

And Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey said that the operation of the courts had not been disrupted by the publicity of the dispute between Cline and Hudson.

"This might be a distraction to the administration of justice, but it has by no means slowed it down or derailed it," Morey said.

Lindsay and Sutton said they might have additional witnesses when the hearing reconvenes at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, after which both sides will present closing arguments.

Hobgood said he didn't think he would be ready to rule before Friday, and would have court administrators contact attorneys to let them know when he was ready to announce his findings.

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