N.C. State Bar blasts former Durham District Attorney Tracy Cline’s conduct

Former prosecutor could lose law license

jneff@newsobserver.comMay 26, 2012 

The N.C. State Bar filed a complaint Friday charging that former Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline spun a string of courthouse lies, behavior that could cost Cline her law license.

The widely anticipated complaint repeatedly accuses Cline of knowingly making false and misleading statements, an indication that the bar wants to strip Cline of her license. State Bar rules say that disbarment “shall be considered” if a lawyer engaged in acts of dishonesty, misrepresentation, deceit or fabrication.

The complaint focused on Cline’s high-profile attack on Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, an unprecedented action by Durham’s top law enforcement officer on the county’s chief resident judge.

Cline accused Hudson of acting with “moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption.”

“Cline’s statement that Judge Hudson is corrupt is false,” according to the complaint filed Friday. “Cline made this statement knowing it was false or with reckless disregard as to whether the statement was true or false.”

Cline was the subject of a three-part series in The News & Observer, “Twisted Truth: A Prosecutor Under Fire,” published in September. The articles found that Cline misstated facts to judges and failed to produce evidence favorable to defendants as required by law and the U.S. Constitution.

In early March, a Superior Court judge ruled that Cline had made false statements and ordered her removed from her job as elected district attorney.

James Van Camp, a Pinehurst lawyer who represented Cline at that hearing, could not be reached for comment Friday. Cline also could not be reached.

The complaint by the bar, which licenses and disciplines lawyers, makes no mention of her conduct that was reported in the series. Rather, it zeroes in on Cline’s conduct in reaction to the stories.

A false filing

In September, Cline directed her investigator to obtain confidential prison visitation records of three inmates featured in the series. The investigator told prison officials that he needed the records because the inmates were attacking their convictions in a procedure known as a motion for appropriate relief. At the time, none of the inmates had filed such motions.

One of them did so later.

Cline then persuaded Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin to order the prison system to release the records.

After The N&O reported on the errors and false statements in Cline’s court filings, Hardin publicly admonished Cline for making false statements to him.

According to the bar, Cline knowingly made “false representations” about the need for the records, saying the visitation records were irrelevant to any issues the inmates might raise.

The attack on Hudson

The bulk of the 10-page complaint centered on a conspiracy theory that Cline memorialized in court filings in several cases. In each case, Cline accused Hudson of trying to destroy her by orchestrating a conspiracy that included the judge, defense lawyers and The News & Observer.

Cline’s strident language and accusations shocked many courthouse observers. She wrote that Hudson had the “reprobate mind of a monarch” and that his rulings had “emotionally and relentlessly repeatedly raped” crime victims. She accused Hudson of manufacturing media mayhem and ruining reputations, and said the judge’s fictitious findings forfeited the faith of the families of murder victims.

The bar responded that Cline’s statements were inappropriate, intemperate and inflammatory.

“Cline’s statements about Judge Hudson … are not supported by the evidence, are not truthful, and were made by Cline with reckless disregard for the truth,” the complaint said.

This will be the second case where the State Bar has prosecuted an elected Durham district attorney.

Mike Nifong was disbarred in 2007 for a host of ethical violations in his handling of the Duke lacrosse case.

Cline could reach a settlement with the bar, or the case will move to a hearing before the Disciplinary Hearing Commission, an independent agency that acts as judge in disciplinary cases.

Neff: 919-829-4516

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