Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline has asked the Attorney General's office to replace her in next week's scheduled hearing for Durham author Michael Peterson, who is trying to overturn his 2003 murder conviction.
The Attorney General's Office has agreed to step in, but only if the hearing is postponed to allow a review of the massive trial record.
Cline's request is the latest twist in the drama at the Durham County courthouse. Cline has filed motions in three cases, including Peterson's, accusing the senior Durham judge of orchestrating a conspiracy to destroy her.
Peterson is scheduled in court on Monday, where his lawyer will argue that he deserves a new trial because of misconduct by former SBI agent Duane Deaver, an expert witness for the prosecution at the Peterson trial.
A jury convicted Peterson of beating his wife to death in 2001. Deaver was fired by the State Bureau of Investigation in January. David Rudolf, Peterson's lawyer, contends that Deaver has a long history of fabricating evidence of guilt and hiding evidence of innocence in order to win convictions.
Rudolf said he will fight any effort to continue the hearing. Cline has had 10 months to prepare since Rudolf filed his request for a new trial, he said, and the Dec. 5 date was set five months ago. Rudolf said he has experts flying in from around the country and has subpoenaed witnesses from across the state.
Rudolf also said the N.C. Department of Justice was reversing its prior decision that it could not appear in the Peterson case because of a conflict: The SBI director, who reports to N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, fired Deaver. Deaver has sued over his firing; the Department of Justice is opposing the lawsuit.
This came out during an April meeting with Cline and Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, Rudolf said.
"The Attorney General's Office said they could not take on the case because Deaver had sued the Department of Justice and there was a conflict," Rudolf said, recounting what Cline said at the April meeting.
Cline, in an email to the Administrative Office of the Courts in July, sought $100,000 to hire private attorneys to handle the Peterson hearing, citing the state's conflict.
She wrote that, in light of the lawsuit involving Deaver, "the State has a conflict of interest." She also said she had talked with several lawyers in the Attorney General's Office, and "it is clear that they also have a conflict of interest."
According to her July 13 email, the attorneys Cline wanted to hire to represent the state in the Peterson hearing were Deaver's lawyers, the same ones suing the Department of Justice. AOC director John Smith told her it would not be appropriate to hire lawyers who are suing the state to defend the state.
Complicating the matter is Cline's ongoing battle with Hudson, the chief judge in Durham County. Cline has filed motions in three cases, including the Peterson case, asking that Hudson be removed from criminal cases because of "moral turpitude."
Cline alleges that Hudson has led a conspiracy of defense lawyers and The News & Observer to ruin her. A hearing on those motions is set for Monday morning.
Rudolf wrote Cline that her conflict with Hudson has nothing to do with the Peterson case, and the hearing would focus solely on Deaver.
Cline responded in an email: "To answer in short your comment that this motion is meritless as it relates to Peterson. My world does not just exist with only me, what is mine, or whatever I do; it is a composite of everything and everybody. There are no special compartments or levels for cases or people. No big I and little you."