State Bar looking at Cline

A judicial panel will review Judge Orlando Hudson's actions.

acurliss@newsobserver.comNovember 19, 2011 

State agencies that discipline lawyers and judges are at work reviewing the escalating confrontation between Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline and Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, officials said Friday.

An unprecedented 12-page court filing by Cline on Thursday in one case, and a second one 285 pages in a different case that was made public Friday, accuse Hudson of violating judicial standards. Cline alleges Hudson has dismissed cases for reasons not based in fact but to punish Cline.

Cline has written that Hudson's rulings "raped" victims of crimes. She seeks to remove him from all criminal cases in Durham until the matters are resolved by the now-expected outside reviews.

Hudson, the chief resident judge in Durham, has said he welcomes a review of his work.

Reaction to Cline's shorter filing was strong Friday, with a former chief justice suggesting the N.C. State Bar - the agency that regulates lawyers - must evaluate it based on rules that require actions based in facts and prohibit lawyers from engaging in "undignified" or "discourteous" conduct that degrades a court.

"I have never, never seen anything like it," said Burley Mitchell, a former prosecutor, trial judge and chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

Mitchell and others said that Cline's approach should be through the appeals on the cases in the courts, and that a prosecutor should not attack a judge in the way she has.

Jim Coleman, a law professor at Duke University who has followed legal issues in Durham, said the State Bar will "have problems" with what Cline has filed.

"These cases are on appeal," Coleman said. "If Hudson made an error, it will be corrected on appeal. You don't discredit a judge in this intemperate way." Coleman said he was unaware of any similar allegations made by a prosecutor against a judge like this "in any context."

Dorman case review

Cline has been under scrutiny this year, both because of Hudson's orders and The News & Observer's three-part series, "Twisted Truth." The series reported that Cline had withheld evidence favorable to defendants and had misstated facts to judges. Cline has called the newspaper's work an "injustice."

Under state law, much of the investigative work by the N.C. State Bar and the state Judicial Standards Commission is shrouded in secrecy.

The News & Observer has learned that an investigator at the State Bar has requested information on one of the cases that is the subject of Cline's complaints, a murder case that Hudson tossed out.

The investigator requested the order in the case of Michael C. Dorman II, whose murder charge Hudson dismissed in a written order this week, according to Peggy Bullock, the administrative assistant to the Superior Court judges in Durham.

Hudson wrote in the order that Cline misrepresented facts to Superior Court Judge Kenneth Titus and to Hudson, and that she did not preserve evidence as required.

Cline strongly disputes the conclusions that Hudson reached in his orders. She requested appeals, which are being handled by the state Attorney General's Office.

Katherine Jean, counsel at the State Bar, said she cannot comment on potential actions.

She said the State Bar takes notice when possible rules are broken and that the public "can be assured that we're engaged, in a general sense. "The fact that the State Bar is unable to comment on alleged conduct does not mean that no action is being taken," Jean said.

Claims against Hudson

Cline wrote this week that she has filed a formal complaint with the judicial commission. Its members would review her complaints against Hudson and decide whether they have merit.

Commission Chairman John Martin, a state Court of Appeals judge, said a panel of commissioners will meet Dec. 2. He said a decision on further investigating complaints that it reviews would be made then. He could not discuss Cline's filings specifically, citing state law that protects such complaints from public view.

Lawrence Campbell, the public defender in Durham, was the recipient of one of Cline's filings. He said he couldn't believe what he read.

Campbell predicted some type of action would be taken "sooner rather than later."

"It's a sad day for the legal profession," he said.

Curliss: 919-829-4840

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