Last Sunday’s N&O featured a penetrating piece by Andy Curliss—featuring new reporting about a case about which, it seemed, we knew most everything—analyzing the rise and fall of ex-DA Tracey Cline.
Among other nuggets, Curliss recounts a conversation between Bill Thomas and Cline, just after it was discovered that a central element of Cline’s allegations against Judge Hudson (that he decided a case before hearing all the evidence) was, in fact, based on a faulty timeclock at the Durham court.
"Tracey, no," Thomas recalled telling her. "This needs to stop. What you need to do is withdraw your motion entirely, and apologize to the judge and end this."
Cline told him she wouldn't.
"I'm totally convinced I'm doing the right thing," she said, according to Thomas.
Thomas: "You are destroying your career. Please stop."
Cline, of course, did not stop.
Curliss also had an excellent article summarizing what exists in the public record regarding the former DA’s involvement in the lacrosse case—discussing which she (at best) stretched the truth and (at worst) outright fabricated during her initial 2008 campaign. Cline’s . . . inattention . . . to the truth was not enough to deter The Independent, which hailed her as “a great attorney who has already shown that she can manage a large caseload,” a woman who “could be an excellent role model for the young African Americans caught in the system.” (For good measure, the paper also falsely asserted that Cline had put “to rest questions that she was involved in Nifong's lacrosse prosecution.”) In the same editorial, the paper’s editors reminded readers that they had endorsed Nifong in 2006.
At no point since 2008, even as Cline’s career imploded, did the editorial board see fit to reconsider its judgment, at least in public.
It’s not clear when the next election for Durham DA will be (the timing depends on Cline’s appeals). But whenever it is, one thing is clear: Durham voters should vote for whoever is not endorsed by The Independent.
The N&O also had a somewhat odd story about a play written by Paul Downs Colaizzo, who reveals, “The Duke case was the phenomenally scary and dramatically universal inspiration for my play.” (In the interview, the author does not refer to false accuser Crystal Mangum by name, instead describing her as the “alleged victim,” an early sign of the sort of message his play seems to send.) In the Colaizzo play, the false accuser is white, some sexual contact between the false accuser and the accused occurs, and no reviews that I have seen mention either a demagogic district attorney exploiting the case for re-election or the accused student’s faculty doing to same to advance their on-campus goals—differences that raise questions about what sort of similarities could possibly exist between the lacrosse case and the play. For reasons that are not clear, N&O correspondent Rebecca Ritzel did not appear to question Colaizzo on any of these items.
But here’s Colaizzo explaining the connection between the play and the case to the N&O: "These cases happen where the victims are telling the truth, and athletes get out of control on college campuses. The idea of power goes to their head, and women become objects instead of people. Things may have turned out one way (in Durham), but the ambiguity is where the universality of the Duke case lives."
In other words: the Duke case wholly contradicted his preconceived notions, but Colaizzo appears to have seen no reason to reconsider those preconceived notions. Was Wahneema Lubiano a consultant to the play?
Finally, one important, if underappreciated, theme of the lacrosse case was the importance of judicial independence. As in many states, in North Carolina, judges are elected. And the two judges in the case who had to face Durham voters—Ron Stephens and Kenneth Titus—made rulings that (purely coincidentally, they doubtless would say) looked the other way about Mike Nifong’s abuses. Stephens infamously even testified on Nifong’s behalf as a character witness in the criminal contempt trial, though he didn’t join his colleague Marcia Morey on the witness stand in the ethics hearing. Only when the case moved to a judge—Osmond Smith—who didn’t have to fear the electorate that nominated and elected Mike Nifong (and would subsequently elect his chief assistant) did we see fair rulings from the bench.
The job of judges should be to uphold the law, and the state and federal constitutions, even when doing so (as occurred with Judge Smith’s actions) runs against majority opinion. But too many judges, like Stephens and Titus in the early stages of the lacrosse case, take a different approach to their duties.
The importance of judicial independence amidst a hostile electorate was reaffirmed this week by the Kennedy Library, which announced that former Iowa state supreme court judges Marsha Ternus, David Baker, and Michael Streit will receive the 2012 Profile in Courage awards, "presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences."
The Library indicated that the judges were chosen for the prestigious award "in recognition of the political courage and judicial independence each demonstrated in setting aside popular opinion to uphold the basic freedoms and security guaranteed to all citizens under the Iowa constitution."