Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Updated: Cline Removed from Office
Former Durham County DA (and ex-Nifong ADA) Tracey Cline has been permanently removed from office, marking the second time in a half-decade in which a Durham County District Attorney has been removed as chief prosecutor for ethical misconduct.
Live commentary: Judge Hobgood is reading his opinion, which consists of running through Cline's most inflammatory statements from her various wild motions.
The judge concludes that a variety of Cline's statements are false, and brought the office of the DA into disrepute. Hobgood adds that Cline "knew the risk" of her actions.
The "knowingly false statement made with reckless disregard for the truth do not enjoy constitutional protection." Cline's statements were "not truthful." Hobgood adds that Cline's statements "unquestionably" violated Bar standards.
Hobgood says some of Cline's statements might be protected by 1st amendment or qualified immunity, but several of her statements "goes far beyond" any constitutional protections--statements made with "actual malice and reckless disregard for the truth."
Cline "has lost the confidence" necessary to continue as DA. "By recklessly making false allegations against Judge Hudson in the public record," Cline "has crossed the line of protected speech under the 1st amendment."
Rejects Judge Morey's claim that Cline's conduct has not impeded the administration of justice. Cline must be removed from office.
Live-stream is below:
Apart from the hearing, just before the filing deadline, and without informing his boss (interim DA Leon Stanback) Cline backer and ass't district attorney Jim Dornfried has filed to run against Judge Hudson.
A few observations on the hearing. The Cline attorneys argued that her remarks were protected by the 1st amendment. Cline attorney Patrick Mincey even cited Marbury v. Madison !!(1803), which he described, erroneously, as the "first" case "that the Supreme Court made after it was created." (It actually was the 12th decision made by the Court.)
This line of attack strikes me as weak--State Bar organizations in all 50 states have restrictions of various types on what can and cannot be said about judges, criminal cases, etc. Upholding the Cline argument would essentially require Judge Hobgood holding that the State Bar codes in all 50 states are unconstitutional.
One point on which I'd agree with Mincey: in his remarks, he claimed that if the court removed Cline, it would have a "chilling" effect on DA's. Such an action would have a chilling effect: that it, is would "chill" DA's from making unsubstantiated charges and inaccurate claims in court filings. Less persuasively, Mincey claimed that "those who live in Durham Co. who wish to speak out against judicial officials" would be chilled from speaking out by a removal of Cline. I don't see how, unless all the citizens of Durham County are somehow subject to N.C.G.S. § 7A-66.
Even more hilariously, Mincey asserted that Cline's behavior has made the administration of justice in Durham County "stronger." And I'm going to be elected the next Pope.
Boiled down to the essence, the Cline defense made two arguments: (1) discipline of her, if it should occur, should be done by the Bar and not through this procedure; (2) since she really believed what she was saying was always true (even though, of course, it wasn't), she had a right to speak out.