The rise and fall of Tracey Cline

Sources: Durham County court files; News & Observer reportsMarch 3, 2012 


February: Cline, an assistant district attorney under Mike Nifong, announces she will seek the district attorney's job. Nifong was disbarred in 2007 for misconduct in the Duke lacrosse case.

April: Cline maintains that she had no involvement in the lacrosse case, although defense lawyers for the exonerated players and testimony from State Bar disciplinary proceedings against Nifong challenge that.

May: Cline wins primary to secure office of district attorney.

September: State Court of Appeals tosses out conviction of Frankie Washington, a Durham man whose case languished for nearly five years. Cline, who prosecuted the case, had blamed evidence testing delays on the State Bureau of Investigation lab, when in fact Cline had failed to ensure items were tested for more than three years.


January: Cline is sworn in as district attorney to fill Nifong's unexpired term.


November: Cline runs unopposed for re-election.

December: Judge Orlando Hudson dismisses sexual assault and murder charges against Derrick Allen, a Durham man who had served 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to avoid a possible death penalty. Hudson finds that the SBI and Durham prosecutors, including Cline, had violated Allen's rights by withholding evidence that would have been helpful to his defense. Hudson's decision is on appeal.


August: Hudson dismisses a murder case against Michael C. Dorman II. The written order later specifies that he rules Cline violated court orders, suppressed evidence, misrepresented facts to a judge, and failed to correct misrepresentations by a police detective and a medical examiner she called to testify in hearings about the case. Hudson's decision is being appealed.

Sept. 4-6: N&O series, "Twisted Truth: A Prosecutor Under Fire," is published.

Sept. 14: Cline holds a "town hall meeting" at the Durham Courthouse to complain about the series, calling the articles "character assassination."

Nov. 17: Cline accuses Hudson of "moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption" in an extraordinary court filing related to cases in which Hudson ruled against her or that were covered in the N&O series. A second filing accuses Hudson of violating judicial standards and includes language experts say they have never seen leveled against a judge. Cline alleges Hudson has dismissed cases for reasons not based in fact but to punish her and asks that he be removed from criminal cases in Durham.

Dec. 4: N&O reports that Cline sought prison records while making false statements to Judge James E. Hardin Jr., according to records.

Dec. 5: Superior Court Judge Carl Fox rules that Cline failed to produce justification for removing Hudson from handling criminal cases.

Dec. 6: Lawyers for inmates Keith Kidwell and Angel Richardson ask Judge Hardin to throw out orders Hardin granted in October to release confidential prison records because the judge's order was based on false information presented to him by Cline.

Dec. 9: N.C. State Bar, the state agency that disciplines lawyers, obtains information on five cases in which Cline's conduct is under scrutiny.

Dec. 14: Judge Hardin issues a "public admonition" and warns Cline to be truthful in court after finding that she presented false motions to him. He rescinds orders he issued related to prison records.

Dec. 20: The state Court of Appeals found no error in the prosecution by Cline of Richardson, convicted in a 2006 contract killing just north of downtown Durham. The court agrees that the defendant received an important piece of evidence for the first time during trial, but said the defense had time to make use of it.


Jan. 6 and 9: Cline files new court documents that repeat previous allegations of possible misconduct by Hudson.

Jan. 13: Superior Court Judge Henry W. Hight Jr. denies Cline's request to keep Hudson from handling any criminal cases, saying Cline's latest filing "fails to provide a factual basis" for her claims against Hudson.

Jan. 15: N&O reports that Cline based a crucial allegation against Hudson - that he dismissed a case without hearing all of the evidence - on the faulty time stamp on a court document. Court clerks acknowledge the clock was wrong at the time the document was stamped.

Jan. 17: State Court of Appeals rules that Keith Kidwell, who was found guilty in the 2005 murder of a Durham convenience store clerk, was convicted properly and does not deserve a new trial, upholding decisions made by Hudson in a case prosecuted by Cline. Hudson had found that Cline violated rules of "discovery," the required exchange of information in a case.

Jan. 18: Durham lawyer Kerry Sutton files an affidavit asking that Cline be removed or suspended from office, alleging that her behavior has brought the court system "into widespread disrepute."

Jan. 27: Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood of Franklin County suspends Cline from office and orders a hearing to determine whether she will be permanently removed.

Feb. 1: Retired Durham judge Leon Stanback is appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue as acting district attorney.

Feb. 13: Removal inquiry begins, but is delayed to allow Cline time to better defend herself.

Feb. 20: Lawyers testify that Cline has engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office of the DA into disrepute, a standard under state law for removal.

Feb. 24: Cline testifies that everything she has alleged against Hudson is "absolutely true." She says she could have used different words.

March 2: After hearing evidence and arguments, Hobgood rules that Cline be permanently removed from office.

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