In most of the country, “progressive” activists are known for their defenses of civil liberties and their (sometimes reflexive and overheated) criticism of alleged police and/or prosecutorial misconduct. This record often has led to “progressives” being attacked as soft on crime. But there is, also, an intellectual consistency in their positions on such matters that deserves acknowledgement.
In Durham, of course, everything is upside down, and in recent years, the “progressive” establishment—represented by the People’s Alliance—has emerged as a consistent, vociferous apologist for police and prosecutorial misconduct. The PA enthusiastically supported Mike Nifong’s election in 2006. The group’s closest ally on the City Council, Diane Catotti, did everything she could to squelch and then neuter the investigation into police misconduct in the lacrosse case. And the PA was in Tracey Cline’s corner in 2008.
So few should be surprised that in the Democratic primary for superior court judge, the PA has spurned Orlando Hudson in favor of ex-DA Cline’s chief deputy, Jim Dornfried.
The PA made its choice even though in their respective questionnaires, Hudson took a consistently more liberal position than did Dornfried. In responding to a question about a pending state constitutional amendment to make same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships of any type illegal, Hudson stated that the federal constitution should grant gay and lesbian couples a right to marry; Dornfried didn't mention the federal constitutional issue. In responding to a question about North Carolina's Racial Justice Act, Hudson strongly defended the law, citing North Carolina's Jim Crow heritage; Dornfried deferred comment on the matter. In a question about their respective backgrounds, Hudson spoke of his earlier work as an assistant public defender; Dornfried had been in private practice before joining the DA's office. Hudson also detailed his willingness to volunteer his legal skills to local law schools; Dornfried mentioned no such volunteer work.
But the PA ignored Hudson's seemingly “progressive” credentials, instead explaining its endorsement by hailing Dornfried’s work as Cline’s deputy. In his questionnaire to the PA, Dornfried cited the testimony of Durham’s resident ethics apologist, Judge Marcia Morey, to argue that Cline’s deeds did not harm the administration of justice--and thereby to implicitly challenge the decision to remove her from office.
(Dornfried, I should note, was answering a question that was framed in such a way to suggest the PA's fury at the decision to remove Cline: “District attorneys are elected by the people. How egregious must a district attorney’s conduct be before a trial judge may interfere with the people’s right to choose or replace their representative in criminal proceedings?”)
The cases in which Hudson and Cline tangled, as the PA understood, involved matters in which Judge Hudson had claimed that the DA's office violated the constitutional rights of accused criminals--usually a point of view that self-styled “progressives” embrace but in Durham is anathema to the “activist” left.
By the way, Dornfried is white, Hudson is African-American. And in his PA questionnaire, Dornfried identified our current President as “Barak [sic] Obama,” a misspelling that often appears on far-right websites. It appears we’ve finally found the issue—defending prosecutorial misconduct—upon which Durham’s “progressives” are willing to abandon their obsession with “diversity.”