Attorneys for suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline renewed a request Wednesday that a judge dismiss a petition calling for Cline’s removal from elected office. When Cline filed court documents last fall criticizing the rulings of a Durham judge, her speech was protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, one of Cline’s attorneys argued.
Cline was defending criticism of the District Attorney's office, argued Patrick Mincey, an attorney with Van Camp Meacham & Newman in Pinehurst. "She could have stayed silent. She could have done nothing," he said. "But Tracey Cline, as a last resort, spoke out on what she perceived ... was an abuse of justice." By shedding light on the perceived misconduct of Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, Cline's actions have actually strengthened the system, Mincey argued.
Durham attorney Kerry Sutton disagreed that Cline's speech was protected. In January, Sutton filed a petition to have Cline removed. She says Cline's lengthy written accusations, using language she described as "unjust and abusive," damaged public confidence in the court system in Durham.
Cline's writings were not a debate, quarrel or discussion, Sutton said. "This was merely [Cline] blasting out there her version of what she believed happened," and Hudson did not have an opportunity to respond. Cline knows there are strict rules on what lawyers may say about judges, and she knowingly violated them, Sutton argued.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood denied the other efforts Cline’s attorneys made to have the case dismissed, including arguments that the state law allowing a district attorney to be removed is “vague." But Hobgood said he would consider the free speech arguments, and will decide whether the case should be dismissed on those grounds as part of his final decision.
Hobgood could announce a ruling as early as Friday, he said. He’ll decide whether Cline, 48, has brought Durham’s justice system into disrepute because of written requests to have Hudson removed from her cases due to judicial misconduct. Cline used bold, sweeping language in the motions, saying Hudson has presided with the "reprobate mind of a monarch," and that a decision he made to dismiss sexual assault charges in one case was tantamount to raping victims all over again.
Cline has said in her testimony that although she regrets the harsh tone of the hundreds of pages she filed, every statement in the documents is true.
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. "
Suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline took the witness stand in her own defense Friday, as she testified in a hearing that will determine whether she may stay in office.
Last fall, Cline wrote several long court filings accusing Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson of judicial misconduct. She said he was acting on a personal agenda against her instead of working in the interest of victims of crime and the justice system. On Friday, the fourth day of hearings on her removal, Cline defended the long filings regarding Hudson, which used fiery language that several witnesses have characterized as "inflammatory."
"What I said in those motions is absolutely true," Cline said. "How I said it could have been better."
Over several hours, Cline described the interactions she had with Hudson over the past year, both in court and in administrative matters, such as scheduling cases for court. Cline, 48, said she has had a good relationship with Hudson since they met in the mid-1990s, before Cline came to work in Durham. He has been a mentor and role model, and although they haven't always agreed, she has understood his reasoning and application of the law.
Things changed, she said, when Hudson recommended that Cline dismiss charges against Derrick Allen, a man who had served prison time in connection with the 1998 sexual assault and killing of a 2-year-old girl. Allen's conviction was one of numerous cases being reexamined because, a state report found, some reports by forensic examiners at the State Bureau of Investigation may have been incomplete in some cases, and some excluded evidence that might have helped defendants.
When Cline refused to dismiss the Allen case, Hudson dismissed the case himself, and issued an order saying Cline, former Assistant District Attorney Freda Black, and an SBI investigator intentionally misrepresented evidence in the case. Cline denies the judge's findings and spoke with Hudson several times about what he wrote about her, and he repeatedly told her that his findings placed the emphasis on Black and the SBI agent, and their wrongdoing, but that as an assistant to Black, she, too, was responsible. She considered asking Hudson to amend his order to exclude her from culpability, but says she didn't follow through.
"I knew in my heart what I had done, and had not done. So I let it go," Cline said on the witness stand.
But tensions continued to build as Hudson ruled against Cline and her prosecutors in several key cases, including criticisms of Cline's compliance with discovery laws. Then, last fall, The (Raleigh) News & Observer ran a series of critical articles on Cline, and Cline believed Hudson had been a source for the newspaper to discredit her. He also rearranged court dates, which complicated the ability of her office to operate efficiently. There came a point where Cline says Hudson wouldn't talk to her, nor would he respond to other attorneys she sent to the judge to help mediate.
So, Cline said, she contacted various administrative agencies, including the attorney general's office, to see what her options were. She filed a complaint with the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission, then also gathered her staff and told them what she was about to do—to file motions to prohibit Hudson from presiding over her cases because he was biased against her.
Three Triangle-area attorneys testified in a Durham courtroom Monday that the actions and media coverage of embattled District Attorney Tracey Cline have caused them to lose confidence in Durham's justice system.
Lawyers across the state are talking about the public accusations Cline has made against Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, said Staples Hughes, the N.C. Appellate Defender.
“Pretty much anywhere I go … if the subject of Durham comes up, the conversation focuses on Ms. Cline’s filing these motions and the extraordinary and singular character of those motions,” Hughes said. Cline’s behavior is the subject of discussion among lawyers, including some Hughes said he spoke with during a recent trip to Charlotte.
“It is regarded that she’s simply, for whatever reason, completely out of control,” Hughes said.
Cline’s actions could cost her job, maybe even her career. Durham defense attorney Kerry Sutton filed a petition last month to have Cline removed from office because of her widely publicized conflict with Hudson, in which she has accused him of plotting with a defense attorney to ruin her reputation. The N.C. State Bar is also examining Cline’s conduct in a separate investigation.
Monday’s hearing was an opportunity for Sutton to bring forward evidence that Cline’s behavior has eroded public confidence in the Durham judicial system and brought it into disrepute.
For about an hour, Sutton had Hughes read excerpts from the hundreds of pages Cline has filed condemning Hudson’s conduct, questioning his character and objectivity and accusing him of retaliation against her by ruling against her in court. Cline has accused Hudson of creating “media mayhem” through a series of stories The News & Observer published last fall. The stories examined Cline’s conduct in court, and findings that she and others mishandled or failed to disclose evidence that might have helped defend people charged with crimes.
As Hughes read the passages from Cline’s missives, Sutton projected them onto a screen in the courtroom. From time to time, Cline looked up at her own words.
“For those who use this court for special situations outside the lines of right and wrong; Don’t hide your dirty hands,” Hughes said, reading Cline’s words aloud. “And to those who have seen, and know, yet turn a blind eye, acknowledge that your hands are covered with the blood of justice. And be ashamed.”
The inquiry on whether to terminate embattled Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline will proceed Monday, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled Friday afternoon at a special hearing.
Also during the 30-minute session, Cline’s legal team, hired Wednesday, released all of the standing subpoenas, including three seeking information from The (Raleigh) News & Observer staff members.
They reserve the right to re-issue them as they become familiar with the case, lead counsel James Van Camp of Moore County said.
Cline was seeking a second delay in the proceedings.
On Monday, Hobgood granted Cline a one-week extension to Feb. 20 after she struggled to project her voice in court, having suffered with pneumonia, she says, and after she could not find suitable counsel to represent her.
On Wednesday, she retained Van Camp, Meacham and Newman of Pinehurst. The law firm filed documents Thursday asking for a second delay so that they can have time to review and prepare for the inquiry.
The case is “unique” and “special” and “an unnecessarily expedient hearing can only risk Ms. Cline being merely prepared to offer a mercurial defense based on emotion rather than a calm, rational defense based on facts,” the motion states.
In court Friday, Van Camp argued for another delay “in the interest of justice and interest of fairness to all parties.”
Attorneys for suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline are scheduled to appear at 3 p.m. today to ask a superior court judge for more time to prepare for a hearing that could result in her removal from office. A Durham defense attorney filed a petition with the courts last month that Cline lose her job because her conduct in a highly publicized conflict with Judge Orlando Hudson has brought the court system into disrepute.
Because she was recovering from pneumonia, and because of the nature of the case, Cline was unable to secure a lawyer to represent her, she said in a hearing Monday. That day, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood granted Cline a delay until Feb. 20.
Two days later, Cline hired a group of attorneys from the Pinehurst firm Van Camp, Meacham & Newman, according to court filings (PDF). Those attorneys now seek to delay the hearing further, since they just got the case Feb. 15.
Because of the gravity of the accusations and the fact that Cline could lose her job, "Ms. Cline effectively must be afforded every opportunity and reasonable allowance of time to prepare an adequate presentation of her merits and the case," her attorneys wrote in their request for more time.
Under state statute, the judge has the authority to delay the hearing until March 1, according to the request.
Greenfire Development, owner of the Liberty Warehouse near Durham Central Park, must fix the decaying structure by October, according to a ruling (PDF) Wednesday from Durham's planning director, Steve Medlin. According to city ordinances, damage caused by neglect has essentially demolished the historic landmark, Medlin ruled. The former tobacco auction warehouse actually comprises two separate buildings at 611 and 613 Rigsbee Ave. It's the portion at 611 that has been neglected, Medlin found.
The company must develop a rehabilitation plan with city planners within 30 days and repair a slew of problems, including peeling paint, rotting beams and a hole where the roof collapsed last May during a heavy rainstorm. If the company wants to challenge the findings or argue that it is suffering from economic hardship and can't afford the repairs, representatives need to notify the city within 30 days, according to a letter from Medlin to Greenfire Managing Partner Paul Smith.
If the company fails to act, the city could resort to civil action, including levying fines of $500 per day until the building is repaired.
Greenfire is reviewing the city's findings and will meet with officials soon to discuss them, Smith wrote to the Indy in an email Wednesday.
Her voice cracking and swerving in pitch due to illness, suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline persuaded a judge Monday to give her another week to prepare for a hearing on whether she should be stripped of her title. Cline was recovering from pneumonia, she said, and also had yet to find an attorney to represent her who wouldn't have a conflict of interest in the case.
After about an hour of proceedings—during which Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood twice advised Cline to sit for a moment, sip some water and try and recover her wobbly voice—the judge decided the hearing should continue Monday, Feb. 20, at 10 a.m.
Cline is facing a legal petition alleging that she's unable to do her job—that an ongoing conflict between Cline and Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, in which Cline has tried to have Hudson removed from her cases because of alleged bias, has brought the DA's office into disrepute, and is "prejudicial to the administration of justice."
Durham defense attorney Kerry Sutton filed the petition Jan. 18 to have Cline removed. Cline was suspended with pay until a judge could hear Sutton's complaint and Cline's response. Although Sutton said she was prepared to begin showing evidence today in court, Cline was not. So Hobgood tried to first address some motions that attorneys had filed to quash some of the dozen subpoenas Cline said she had filed to bring in witnesses.
Among the people called to court were reporter J. Andrew Curliss and editors John Drescher and Steve Riley of The News & Observer, whom Cline wanted to appear to speak to information contained in several news articles the Raleigh newspaper published in September 2011 about some of Cline's cases.
This post has been modified from its original form. See deletions and italicized phrases below.
Despite initial plans to wait until a civil lawsuit was over, Durham's City Council has now decided it will consider at a meeting Feb. 20 whether to grant utilities to Southern Durham Development. The company wants to build 751 South, a large mixed-use project in southwest Durham controversial in part because of its proximity to Jordan Lake.
The council met during a closed session Thursday with City Attorney Patrick Baker to consider a request from SDD to grant water lines and the use of storm drainage and sewer systems for the project. Baker said the session was not public because he was providing legal advice to the council covered by attorney-client privilege.
SDD made the original request in April 2010, but city council members decided in August 2011 that they wanted to wait until a civil lawsuit related to the development had been resolved. A judge recently dismissed the lawsuit the plaintiffs, Chancellor's Ridge Homeowners Association, brought against Durham County. The plaintiffs announced they would appeal.
In the meeting, council members indicated that they wanted to delay their decision until after the appeals process had concluded. The council isn't bound by its August decision and is free to change course, Baker said Thursday.
The council also isn't required to hold a public hearing on the utility extension agreement, Baker said. The council could opt to allow public comment at the meeting, and could vote on that date, or defer the matter.
But the application has already been deferred by 21 months, Cal Cunningham, an attorney for SDD, pointed out in a recent letter to Baker (PDF). The company paid the appropriate fees to the city when it filed the application in April 2010, Cunningham wrote, and the application materials indicated a decision would be made within five months.
SDD had originally asked the council to consider annexing the 167 acres on which 751 South would be built. Becoming part of the city limits would entitle the property to services such as water, wastewater treatment, police and fire services. But a city analysis determined that the city could potentially spend as much as $1 million by providing services to the property before the tax revenue from the project would help the city break even.
When it became evident the numbers wouldn't add up in the city's favor, SDD
changed its request. Instead of asking for annexation, it just asked the city to consider providing provide water, stormwater and sewer services without annexation. That's the request discussion that was tabled in August, and is now coming before council again Feb. 20.
An attorney for plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit over the controversial 751 South development filed a notice in court Friday that they'll appeal a judge's ruling in favor of Durham County and the developers.
Property owners near the land to be developed, including the Chancellor's Ridge Homeowners Association, sued the county in 2010 over the county's decision to rezone the proposed site of the development. The 167 acres along N.C. 751 in the southwestern part of Durham County is in the watershed of Jordan Lake, a source of drinking water for several communities in the region. Neighbors and other opponents say they don't want to see such a dense development near the lake, arguing it will cause further environmental harm and traffic jams on N.C. 751.
Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Henry Hight dismissed the lawsuit at the request of the defendant, Durham County, and Southern Durham Development, which had intervened in the case as an interested party.
It's unclear whether the appeal could cause additional hearings before the case heads to the N.C. Court of Appeals.
In related news, Southern Durham Development has not responded to a request from the Indy for information on $142,000 in overdue property taxes the company owes to Durham County. According to the county's online billing system, the taxes had not been paid as of Friday afternoon.