Top 10 stories of 2012: No. 4

Cline removed from office
Dec. 28, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

In 2012, Tracey Cline was removed from her position as the district attorney of Durham County after she became so upset about a judge’s rulings that she wrote long, fervid motions to have him removed from hearing her cases.
The motions backfired, and instead of the judge being removed from hearing her cases, Cline was removed from office during an unusual proceeding in early 2012.
In November 2011, Cline wrote motions about several cases she had prosecuted. She had come to believe based on decisions and actions of Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson that he held personal animosity against her, and she wrote in the motions that Hudson engaged in misconduct, dishonesty and corruption, among other things, and therefore, he should not hear her cases.
In a separate matter in the fall of 2011, she apparently made false statements to a Superior Court judge in order to obtain prison visitation records of two inmates, saying she needed them because they had filed certain motions in their cases, when they had not. Cline apparently wanted those records for personal reasons because of a series of scathing newspaper articles that had been printed about her, and the inmates had been featured in those articles.
On Jan. 13, 2012, Durham attorney Kerry Sutton, using a little-used state statute, filed an affidavit with the Durham County Court asking for an inquiry to determine whether Cline should be removed from office, saying Cline’s behavior was prejudicial to the administration of justice and had brought the office of the district attorney into disrepute.
On Jan. 27, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood found probable cause to move forward with the inquiry, and on Feb. 20, a hearing was held in a Durham County Courtroom as media and court-watchers crowded into the small courtroom.
Hobgood listened to the evidence, which included some of the passages Cline wrote about Hudson in her filings, Cline’s explanation as to why she wrote the motions, as well as a number of witnesses who testified for and against Cline.
On March 2, Hobgood opened court again and read a long order in which he presented a review of the evidence from the hearing and his final conclusion that Cline should be removed from office immediately. Cline quickly filed notice that she would appeal the decision.
On Aug. 12, Cline filed a record of appeal, and has since filed her arguments that the trial court committed procedural error, violated her right to due process and violated her First Amendment rights to free speech. She also argued that the law used to remove her from office was unconstitutionally vague.
The Court of Appeals has not yet held a hearing on Cline’s appeal.
The N.C. State Bar, which regulates the practice of law in North Carolina, also filed a complaint against her, which could result in Cline being disciplined for her actions. The discipline could range from a warning letter all the way up to losing her license to practice law.
That complaint is on hold until after the N.C. Court of Appeals makes its ruling on her appeal.

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