[Update III, 3.47pm, Saturday: Two articles were posted on the N&O website earlier this afternoon. The first, by Joe Neff, notes that on Friday, Cline filed a 285-page(!) motion--described by Neff as "packed with passionate and personal attacks" against Judge Orlando Hudson--demanding the removal of Hudson from all Durham criminal cases. Cline further alleged a wide-ranging conspiracy to discredit her between Hudson, various Durham defense attorneys, and the N&O. The paper's executive editor, John Drescher, appropriately deemed the (unsubstantiated) allegation "crazy."
The second article, by Andrew Curliss, reveals that the State Bar has begun looking into Cline's behavior. Additionally, both Jim Coleman and former North Carolina chief justice Burley Mitchell sharply criticized Cline's behavior, noting that the issues raised by Cline--alleged errors by Hudson--would be handled through appeals, not by accusations of ethical misconduct. Of Cline's filing, Mitchell said, "I have never, never seen anything like it"; Coleman contended that "you don't discredit a judge in this intemperate way," adding that he was unaware of any comparable filing against a judge "in any context."
And, from the comments section, a reminder that in 2008, the Independent hailed Cline (whose J.D. comes from North Carolina Central, and whose B.A. comes from Livingstone College, in Salisbury, N.C.) as a "great attorney" who "could be an excellent role model for the young African Americans caught in the system." Those comments, by the way, came in an editorial in which the paper admitted that it was wrong to have endorsed Mike Nifong in 2006. How long will it be until Indy similarly retracts its praise of Cline?]
[Update II, 10.35pm: In an interview with WTVD-11, Jim Coleman notes, "This is as an extreme of a reaction by rulings of a court that I've ever seen, particularly because it's so personal. The basis for it appears to be rulings that can be reviewed on appeal and if the judge got it wrong, they can be reversed . . . There probably a lot of lawyers who had thoughts like this about judges, but I've never seen one actually put it in a pleading and filing it."]
[Update I, 12.40pm: Joe Neff tweets that the Cline filing was an "all out, one of a kind attack" on a judge. And I e-mailed Cline to ask why she didn't proofread her document before filing it; she did not respond.]
In a blockbuster article, the N&O’s Andrew Curliss revealed that embattled Durham County “minister of justice” Tracey Cline has filed a complaint with the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission against Durham judge Orlando Hudson. Cline accused Hudson of acting with “BAD FAITH” (capitalization and emphasis in original) and deemed him guilty of “moral turpitude, dishonesty, and corruption.” The DA added that the existence of the complaint gives Judge Hudson a conflict of interest with the Durham DA’s office, and therefore he should hear no criminal cases until any ethics proceedings against him are completed.
In a rambling, 12-page document, Cline charged Hudson with having a vendetta based on her handling of the Derrick Allen case. She outlined her . . . reasoning . . . in this meandering sentence (grammatical and run-on errors all in original): “The District Attorney alleges, based upon information and belief, that this Honorable Court’s action of attempting to coerce the District Attorney into dismissing Allen and then for this Honorable Court to engaged in retaliatory conduct against the District Attorney and the District Attorney’s office after the District Attorney refused to dismiss that case are actions that constitute an improper or wrongful use of the power of this office by acting intentionally and with gross disregard for this conduct and in bad faith.”
Cline offered her “evidence” for Hudson’s alleged gross misconduct in three-and-a-half pages. She summarized what she saw as the basic facts of three cases (Yearwood, Dorman, and Allen) in which Hudson had ruled against her. Cline provided no new evidence to sustain her wild claims, most of which were thoroughly debunked in the N&O’s “Twisted Truth” series. Instead, she frequently resorted to citing unspecified, and unrevealed, “information and belief” (about her own cases!). Based on the arguments presented in her filing, virtually any high-profile ruling against a prosecutor could be deemed judicial misconduct.
The most striking aspect of the filing, however, came not in Cline’s decision to accuse a sitting judge of gross misconduct based largely on his having had the temerity to criticize her own unethical behavior. Rather, it was her decision to do so in a filing that appeared as if it were written by an ill-prepared high school student rather than a major county’s chief prosecutor.
A comedy of grammatical errors, the filing included numerous comma splices that (doubtless unintentionally) produced passages that differed from Cline’s desired meaning. Sometimes the DA seemed unable to write in complete sentences. (“Also a nurse saw the defendant looking at the deceased child’s vagina prior to there being any indication of sexual assault.” Or: “That the appellate courts have reviewed this case two times and each time did not overturn this conviction.” Or: “In that the agency was helping the family with counseling and trying to locate other family members.”) Mid-sentence, Cline frequently capitalized words (Game, Stayed, Interest) for no apparent reason. Occasionally, she ended sentences without periods. Sometimes, she used words Sarah Palin-style, as when she asserted that Hudson’s behavior “retards” confidence in the court’s application of the law.
Most embarrassingly, the filing was riddled with spelling mistakes. At one point, Cline referred to saliva as “salvia.” At another, she described the court system’s principles as the “principals” of the criminal court system. At still another, she feared that her rights were “striped away” by Hudson’s rulings. At yet another point, Cline charged that the legal system’s credibility was a “causality” of Hudson’s conduct. And consider this single-sentence paragraph, with the emphasis added: “This is power without responsibility or conscious.” Was Cline suggesting that Hudson had passed out while delivering his rulings?
Finally, ponder this borderline incoherent sentence, with which Cline began her introduction to the Yearwood case (run-on nature, lack of punctuation as in original): “Mother of 12 year old victim comes home at lunch hears her daughter scream out Mom help and goes to her bedroom to see her daughter crying, her panties torn on the floor, her dress torn and being held up trying to cover her body and the defendant is there buttoning his pants.”
In many circumstances—say, comments on a blog—there’s little, if any, expectation of the writer adhering to basic rules of grammar. But, in this instance, a sitting district attorney took the extraordinary step of registering a claim of ethical misconduct against a sitting judge. Yet this prosecutor, whose job includes the writing of legal briefs at the trial level*, couldn’t even take the time to have someone who knows how to write proofread her legal filing?
It should go without saying that, if removal proceedings aren’t already underway against Cline, this filing should force the State Bar to take a hard look at her fitness for office. As Curliss notes in his article, "Ethics rules for lawyers say they cannot 'engage in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal' or engage in discourteous conduct 'degrading to a tribunal.' Ethics rules also require lawyers to bring actions based in law and fact, and that a lawyer cannot make a statement 'with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge.'"