Durham County

Ex-Durham County DA Tracey Cline loses bid to regain law license

Former Durham district attorney Tracey Cline pauses as she testifies in her disciplinary hearing held before the N.C. State Bar at the organization's offices in Raleigh on Friday, June 5, 2015. She was found to have violated rules in many of the charges against her.
Former Durham district attorney Tracey Cline pauses as she testifies in her disciplinary hearing held before the N.C. State Bar at the organization's offices in Raleigh on Friday, June 5, 2015. She was found to have violated rules in many of the charges against her. cseward@newsobserver.com

Former Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline lost a bid to regain her law license last week after she failed to show up for a hearing.

Cline’s license was suspended for five years in 2015, but she was allowed to apply to have it lifted after two years and after meeting certain conditions.

In August, she filed a motion requesting that her license be reinstated, but a hearing panel ruled her petition lacked “clear, cogent and convincing evidence” that she had satisfied those conditions.

The court sent Cline a notice of the hearing scheduled for Dec 20, which came back as undeliverable. She was later contacted by email, according to a court order but then failed to attend the hearing, after the panel delayed its start by 35 minutes.

The seeds of trouble that led to the suspension of Cline’s law license in June 2015 were planted in 2011 when she thought several defense lawyers and Durham’s chief resident Superior Court judge, Orlando Hudson, were conspiring with a reporter at The News & Observer to discredit her.

In September 2011, The N&O published an investigative series titled “Twisted truth: A prosecutor under fire” that focused on complaints against Cline in four cases. In the reports, defense attorneys raised concerns about questionable State Bureau of Investigation work and contended that Cline withheld evidence that could have been beneficial to their clients.

In 2012, Cline sued the newspaper, contending that the series had libeled her, causing physical harm, emotional trauma, loss of privacy and loss of reputation and standing in the community.

That lawsuit was dismissed in 2016 after Cline failed to respond to court papers filed in the case in a timely manner.

Before dismissing the case, Judge Gary Trawick allowed Cline to introduce 17 documents into evidence that she contended showed publication of the series was done with malice and contradicted claims of fair reporting.

The judge afterward found that Cline had provided no “adequate reason for failing to respond to the N&O in the court process” and signed an order on March 23, 2016, dismissing the case.

Cline told a Bar disciplinary panel in 2015 that Hudson, a man she considered a mentor, wouldn’t help her figure out what to do and had ruled against her in several high-profile cases. In court documents, she accused him of corruption and bias and claimed Hudson was working with the newspaper to “demean the district attorney at all costs.”

Cline has said she regretted the language she used but has maintained she was trying to stick up for crime victims and their families who she thought were being harmed by his rulings.

Nonetheless, she was ousted from office in March 2012 after a judge found she made statements about Hudson with malice and reckless disregard for the truth.

In its ruling issued Dec. 20, the disciplinary hearing panel officially denied Cline’s request to have her license reinstated and gave her 60 days to pay the costs of the administrative hearing she missed.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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