Former Durham district attorney Tracey Cline’s libel lawsuit against The News & Observer has been closed after she failed to pursue an appeal of its dismissal this spring.
Judge Gary Trawick entered an order in Wake County Superior Court on July 11 dismissing the appeal.
Cline, who gave notice of her plans to appeal on April 4, failed to contact the court reporter within the 14-day period to get an official copy of the transcript of the court proceedings in her case. She did not show up for the July 1 hearing to address the request for dismissing the case from attorneys representing The News & Observer.
Cline filed the lawsuit against The News & Observer almost four years ago, shortly after she was ousted as Durham County’s top prosecutor in March 2012.
In her lawsuit she claimed “Twisted Truth: A Prosecutor Under Fire,” a 2011 investigative series, was not truthful about her. Cline contended that the series, which highlighted prosecutions by her that were under scrutiny in various levels of the court, had libeled her, causing physical harm, emotional trauma, loss of privacy and loss of reputation and standing in the community.
At a hearing this past March, Cline sought to extend the process through which she could challenge arguments put forward by The N&O that reporting by J. Andrew Curliss, the author of the investigative series, was fair and accurate.
Cline did not respond to court papers filed in the case in a timely manner, and by defaulting was found to agree with assertions by N&O attorneys that she later wanted to challenge.
At the hearing on March 17, 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 dismissing the case.
“There was no merit to Tracey Cline’s lawsuit against The News & Observer, and we’re glad the matter has been resolved,” said John Drescher, executive editor of The N&O, on Thursday.
The former prosecutor was ousted from office after an unusual proceeding in which a judge found she made statements with malice and reckless disregard for the truth about Orlando Hudson, Durham’s chief resident superior court judge.
Cline’s stridently worded comments in court documents came after The N&O series. Cline contended then that Hudson was working in league with the newspaper to “demean the district attorney at all costs.”
In June 2015, the N.C. State Bar issued a five-year suspension of Cline’s law license for violating professional conduct rules related to the Hudson comments. After two years of not practicing, Cline will be eligible to apply for restoration of her license.