Crime

Judge dismisses former Durham DA’s lawsuit against N&O

Caption: 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.
Caption: 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. cseward@newsobserver.com

A lawsuit filed almost four years ago against The News & Observer by Tracey Cline, the former Durham district attorney, has been dismissed by a superior court judge.

Cline, who was ousted as Durham County’s top prosecutor in March 2012, sued The N&O that same year, claiming “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 on March 17, 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 two weeks ago, 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 dismissing the case.

“We are pleased with the judge’s decision,” said John Drescher, N&O executive editor. “Our reporting on Ms. Cline’s work as Durham district attorney was accurate and fair, and she never presented any evidence to show otherwise.”

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 against 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 comment. After two years of not practicing, Cline will be eligible to apply for restoration of her license.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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