In an interview with the H-S, Duke Law’s Kathryn Bradley correctly noted that Tracey Cline’s holding a “town hall”/political rally wasn’t in and of itself an ethical violation, given that she planned to discuss trials that had already ended. That said, the peculiar nature of Cline’s decision was unavoidable: “Duke’s Bradley questioned whether Cline was speaking as Tracey Cline, the elected district attorney of Durham, or if she was speaking as Tracey Cline, who didn’t like what was written about her . . . During the meeting, Cline seemed to indicate it was both.”
Just because something might not be unethical doesn’t mean it makes any sense.
Moreover, Cline obtained little but some more embarrassment from her decision to escalate the fight with the N&O. A DIW reader who went to the “town hall” reported the following breakdown of attendees:
- 8 odd members of the media
- 7 members of the office of the public defender
- 3 ada's (all arrived late, one left early)
- 3 young ladies (purpose of attendance unknown)
- 2 members of the sheriff's office (both arrived late)
- 1 police officer
- 1 minister (a supporter who tipped out after praising her)
If Cline anticipated a swelling of grassroots support, her plan backfired.
Moreover, in an event designed to discredit the “Twisted Truth” series, Cline twisted the truth. She charged that the N&O had misrepresented the record by reporting that she never testified before the jury in the Frankie Washington trial. But, as Joe Neff pointed out, the court records showed that the N&O, not Cline, was correct.
So the embattled DA misrepresented the truth even at her own gathering.
Cline’s handling of the N&O series—which revealed a prosecutor who has only a loose relationship with the truth—seems to have robbed her of whatever credibility she retained, a potentially fatal blow for any prosecutor.
Put yourself, for instance, in the position of a judge handling the appeal of Angel Richardson. In this case, Cline admitted wrongdoing. She violated the Brady rules by failing to turn over, until the trial already had started, police notes that indicated someone else had claimed to have committed the murder. Cline (who, like her predecessor Mike Nifong, boasted of her policy of turning all files, not merely exculpatory ones, over to the defense) claimed that the error was inadvertent, and subsequently defended her decision in court filings.
That document prompted a blistering response from Anne Petersen, Richardson’s attorney, in a filing yesterday posted by the N&O. Petersen termed as “ludicrous” and “inane” Cline’s claim that she should be absolved of her responsibility of handing over the exculpatory evidence on grounds that the defense team could have obtained this information on its own. (By running a classified ad in the H-S, perhaps?) Petersen accused Cline of having “misrepresented the record” (where have we heard that before?) in an attempt to minimize the significance of the DA’s non-disclosure. And Petersen dismissed Cline’s almost comical point that her non-disclosure was irrelevant on grounds that “overwhelming” evidence existed against Richardson. This “Cline Doctrine” (which amounts to saying that Brady doesn’t apply when the prosecutor has decided that she has strong evidence against the accused) would be a far more extreme restriction on criminal defendants’ civil liberties than anything the Supreme Court has promulgated since the Court’s shift to the right in 2005.
Normally, a defense attorney describing a prosecutor’s arguments with such strong terms as “inane” might cause a judge to suspect that the argument is overheated. But Durham isn’t a normal situation, and given Cline’s behavior (including her town-hall appearance), a description of her as misleading the court or offering ludicrous arguments seems perfectly reasonable.
And that situation applied even before this morning’s extraordinary item from the N&O’s John Drescher, in which Judge Orlando Hudson told the N&O that—despite Cline’s protestations to the contrary—he held her “responsible” for her misrepresentations in the Derrick Allen case.
It’s hard to dispute Drescher’s conclusions: “Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline has a problem with facts . . . in communicating in broad strokes, she pays little attention to detail, as if it doesn't matter. She has her story, and she's sticking to it, the facts be damned . . . Cline says she would never lie in court. Let's give her the benefit of the doubt and say her memory has failed her from time to time, as it apparently did Wednesday night . . . But in the end, she's the district attorney for Durham. She is an officer of the court. She is responsible for what she says. The facts matter, regardless of how fast Tracey Cline speeds past them."
And, it goes without saying, Cline continues to deflect comment on whether she will release the 2007 conversation with Michael Biesecker, in which she offered her opinion on the strength of the evidence in the lacrosse case.