Durham DA Cline renews her attacks on judge

Cline doesn't want Hudson to handle case

acurliss@newsobserver.comJanuary 10, 2012 

Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline has renewed her efforts to remove the senior judge, Orlando Hudson, from handling a criminal case in Durham by filing new court documents that repeat previous allegations of possible misconduct by Hudson. Hudson denies any wrongdoing.

Cline wrote in documents filed Friday and Monday that Hudson should be removed from a case that is scheduled for a hearing before him this week. Cline offers some new details that she says support her claims that Hudson is working against her, but they do not deal with the case that is scheduled.

Cline says the state cannot get a fair hearing before Hudson because he is out to get her.

The attack by Cline on Hudson began in late November in other cases and has already been characterized as unprecedented by legal experts. It has prompted inquiries from the state agency that regulates lawyers, and led to discussions in Durham's legal circles of a possible petition to have Cline removed from office. Rules for lawyers prohibit "conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal."

Cline says she is not taking the action lightly but believes she must follow through on what she views as the right thing to do. She has also filed a complaint against Hudson with the state commission that sanctions judges.

Three previous attempts by Cline to remove Hudson from cases were dismissed by a judge or withdrawn by Cline when it became clear that the judge hearing them, Carl Fox of Orange County, was going to rule against her. Fox described Cline's previous arguments as inadequate.

The latest filings involve a case of molestation accusations by a Texas man against his stepfather from 30 years ago when the child was 5 years old and they were in Durham. The stepfather is charged in the alleged act and has requested that Hudson dismiss the case for a range of reasons that include an allegation of "unreasonable and unjustified conduct" by the assistant prosecutor who has handled the case.

A lawyer for the accused man, Kerry Sutton of Durham, said Monday that her client's case has nothing to do with Cline and that Hudson has shown no bias or other reason to be removed from it.

"For her to insert herself into this legal matter is unconscionable," Sutton said. "There is no reason for Ms. Cline to draw (my client) into her personal drama. There's no reason at all for that."

Hudson urged dismissal

Cline has previously claimed that Hudson turned on her after he warned her to dismiss a murder case against Derrick Allen of Durham in late 2010. Questions about the work of the state crime lab were a part of Allen's efforts to have his charges dismissed.

Cline wrote in one of two new filings that she had a conversation with Hudson about the case and he questioned why she wouldn't dismiss it. She said she couldn't because of other evidence.

"He continued to say that I should dismiss the case and a lot of eyes were going to be on that case or watching that case," Cline wrote.

Hudson's ruling in the Allen case found misconduct by prosecutors and the State Bureau of Investigation, including several paragraphs dealing with actions by Cline.

Cline wrote she confronted Hudson, who told her, "You should have listened to me."

The two documents Cline recently filed total 30 pages - much smaller than previous filings by her that attacked Hudson.

Cline repeats some errors from previous filings, including stating twice that a News & Observer reporter was held in contempt of court in the Allen case in 1998. The newspaper has previously reported that is false.

Cline's accusations

Cline says that her refusal to dismiss the Allen case led Hudson to "misuse his power in retaliation against the District Attorney."

Cline wrote: "Since, I refused to dismiss the Allen case, Judge Hudson has dismissed two murder cases and made findings of fact that are not supported in the facts or evidence and he has made conclusions of law which are inconsistent with the well settled law. It is clear that there is a purposeful plan for Judge Hudson to seek cases and / or issues to make unsupported findings of fact and conclusions of law to find something to support his predisposition to rule against the State."

Cline says Hudson was a source for an N&O series, published in September, that highlighted cases in which Cline's conduct was under scrutiny. Hudson and the N&O have said that is not true.

Cline says the series was unfair to her. Her main basis for Hudson's involvement is a cryptic email message that was forwarded to Hudson by a defense lawyer for a prisoner featured in the series and that was also copied to an N&O reporter; it does not appear that Hudson responded to it.

Cline also said Hudson told her that the N&O was preparing articles about her office.

"The only common ground," she wrote, "of these three persons with one issue is the twisting of the truth to publicly discredit me."

The defense lawyer, Lisa A. Williams of Durham, has said Cline is mischaracterizing the email message.

Curliss: 919-829-4840

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