Tracey Cline, the former Durham district attorney who was ousted from office three years ago, appealed to the nation’s highest court in an attempt to get her job back.
But almost eight months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear her case, opening the door for the N.C. State Bar to continue disciplinary proceedings halted by the series of appeals.
On Thursday, a panel of a bar disciplinary hearing commission will meet in Raleigh to hear arguments for and against unresolved portions of complaint brought in May 2012 against Cline.
In March 2012, in a rarely used proceeding, Judge Robert Hobgood found that Cline made statements with malice and reckless disregard for the truth against Orlando Hudson, Durham’s chief resident Superior Court judge.
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Cline’s stridently worded comments in court documents came in fall 2011 after The News & Observer published a series of articles highlighting prosecutions by her that were under scrutiny in the courts.
In an unusual challenge to a judge, Cline contended in the court documents that Hudson had retaliated against her after she refused to drop a murder case tainted by questionable SBI crime lab reporting procedures.
Hudson dismissed the case in a ruling that eventually was reversed by the Court of Appeals and resulted in a manslaughter plea.
In the court documents that led to her ouster, Cline described Hudson’s dismissal of the case as “an extreme abuse of power” and the beginning of a “corrupt” smear campaign against her.
Through the fall of 2011, Cline contended that Hudson had been in league with The N&O to “demean the district attorney at all costs.”
Her attorneys argued in subsequent court hearings that Cline had filed the motions only after personal conversations with the judge and mediation efforts through mutual friends had failed. They said she thought her back was up against a wall and made statements that, at the time, she believed to be true. They also contended that she did not make the statements with malice. But Cline’s appeals failed.
In February, the bar grievance panel issued an order finding that Cline violated professional conduct rules related to her accusations against Hudson.
The only remaining issues are whether Cline also was out of line when directing her investigator in September 2012 to obtain confidential prison visitation records of three inmates featured in the N&O series. The investigator told prison officials 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.
The bar contends that Cline knowingly made “false representations” about the need for the records, saying the visitation records were irrelevant to any issues the inmates might raise.