[Update, Wed. 11.35am:
The post below notes how, in her first months as Durham County's “minister of justice,” Tracey Cline slashed the salaries of two of the office ADA's most associated with ethics reform in the aftermath of the Mike Nifong era. Simultaneously, and despite the massive budget crunch facing the state government, she awarded 10 percent raises to (1) a most intimate ally whose withholding of evidence Judge Hudson had compared to Nifong's misconduct; (2) an ADA who publicly hailed Nifong's good character in an interview with the New York Times.
Cline has declined to explain the rationale behind these unusual decisions.
Is this not an appropriate matter for oversight by the North Carolina legislature--which, after all, funds the Durham DA's office?
I urge DIW readers to contact the relevant members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, whose names and e-mails are below, and urge an inquiry into Cline's spending habits:
Senate Judiciary Committee--leadership
|Sen. Fletcher L. Hartsell, Jr.
|Sen. Austin M. Allran
|Sen. Don Vaughan
|Sen. Ed Jones
House Judiciary Committee--leadership:
|Rep. Deborah Ross
|Rep. Melanie Goodwin
|Rep. Paul Stam
|Rep. Bonner Stiller
Senate Judiciary Committee--other members: Sen. Tom Apodaca, Sen. Bob Atwater, Sen. Stan Bingham, Sen. Charlie S. Dannelly, Sen. Joe Sam Queen, Sen. Doug Berger, Sen. Julia Boseman, Sen. Katie G. Dorsett, Sen. James Forrester, Sen. W. Edward (Eddie) Goodall, Sen. Jim Jacumin, Sen. John Snow, Sen. A. B Swindell
No one can say that Durham voters didn’t know what they were getting when they chose Tracey Cline as their next “minister of justice.” In the past three years, Cline has made her contempt for ethics known in virtually every way possible.
During the campaign, Cline at best misled voters and at worst outright lied about her role in the lacrosse case, most notably by denying the written record that she developed the idea to initiate the legal case through a procedurally preposterous non-testimonial order against all 46 white lacrosse players.
As the campaign proceeded, the Nifong Coalition rallied behind Cline, as Cline received the backing from the same four key institutions that bolstered Mike Nifong—the Herald-Sun, the Independent, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, and the People’s Alliance.
During the transition period after her election, Cline ordered all prosecutors in the office to re-apply for their positions, and listed the qualifications she expected from Durham’s assistant district attorneys. Her list of desired attributes did not include a commitment to prosecutorial ethics.
For her inauguration, Cline invited as her special guest none other than disbarred ex-DA Nifong, a move whose symbolism she recognized and a move that indicated contempt for all prosecutors in her office who actually followed the ethics requirements laid down by the North Carolina State Bar.
Shortly after taking office, Cline found herself on the witness stand—defending herself from allegations of ethical misconduct.
With this record, it should come as little surprise that Cline has punished those prosecutors in her office who have demonstrated a commitment to ethics.
Cline reduced the salary of Mitchell Garrell—who challenged Cline in the Democratic primary for district attorney, when he campaigned on a platform of restoring ethics to the office of the Durham district attorney—by 7.5 percent, from $86,546 to $80,064. The clear inference: Cline is retaliating against Garrell for trying to block her bid to become the county’s “minister of justice.”
Cline reduced the salary of Steven Storch—an assistant DA with a doctorate in philosophy and specialty in ethics who was hired by interim DA Jim Hardin in part to show the office's renewed commitment to ethics—by 6.7 percent, from $41,100 to $38,350, and removed the position’s permanent status. The clear inference: Cline doesn’t want anyone with an ethics focus in her office.
Perhaps, it could be argued, Cline’s actions simply reflected a broader, office-wide commitment to economy, given that the recession has hit North Carolina with particular severity (it has the 7th-highest unemployment rate of any state in the country), prompting talk of a state budget freeze. But, in fact, Cline elected to boost salaries for her cronies:
Jim Dornfried: a whopping 10 percent raise, from $86,340 to $94,974, went to this most intimate ally of the "minister of justice." In early 2008, Judge Orlando Hudson compared Dornfried's conduct to that of Nifong after Dornfried withheld evidence from defense counsel by turning over an edited version of a police tape, rather than the complete tape. Said Hudson, "You can't make a tape come out the way they want it to come out. That's what's wrong with this situation. I don't see that being any different than people working with the DA's office and deciding certain DNA shouldn't come out."
Shamieka Rhinehart: an equally whopping 10 percent raise, from $56,035 to $61,638. This beneficiary of Cline's current largesse made the New York Times in May 2006, giving Nifong a huge kiss after Nifong prevailed in that year's Democratic primary. Exclaimed Rhinehart, "He's a good man. I'm so proud of him." That analysis testifies to Rhinehart's ethical core.
That Cline has given her cronies raises while simultaneously targeting the members of her office most associated with ethics is fitting for a figure that saw fit to turn her inauguration ceremony into a celebration of Mike Nifong.
Cline did not respond to a request for comment. Her official website contains no explanation for the spending priorities she has pursued as “minister of justice.”
[Update, 1.30pm: Ms. Cline responds, "The District Attorney cannot speak about an employee's personnel file without a waiver from that employee. Contact each employee and attach their waiver and I will be more than happy to meet with you and that employee in my office."
It would seem, based on this reply, that the only people who could get explanations for Ms. Cline's salary adjustment rationales would be members of the state legislature; moreover, the meeting procedure that she lays out in this email would seem more appropriate for counsel to one of her ADA's than a reporter or a blogger.]