Citing pneumonia and need for lawyer, Cline gets more time

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Suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline packs her files after an hour-long hearing on whether she should be removed from office. A judge granted Cline, who is recovering from pneumonia, a continuance to Feb. 20.
  • Pool Photo/Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer
  • Suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline packs her files after an hour-long hearing on whether she should be removed from office. A judge granted Cline, who is recovering from pneumonia, a continuance to Feb. 20.

Her voice cracking and swerving in pitch due to illness, suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline persuaded a judge Monday to give her another week to prepare for a hearing on whether she should be stripped of her title. Cline was recovering from pneumonia, she said, and also had yet to find an attorney to represent her who wouldn't have a conflict of interest in the case.

After about an hour of proceedings—during which Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood twice advised Cline to sit for a moment, sip some water and try and recover her wobbly voice—the judge decided the hearing should continue Monday, Feb. 20, at 10 a.m.

Cline is facing a legal petition alleging that she's unable to do her job—that an ongoing conflict between Cline and Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, in which Cline has tried to have Hudson removed from her cases because of alleged bias, has brought the DA's office into disrepute, and is "prejudicial to the administration of justice."

Durham defense attorney Kerry Sutton filed the petition Jan. 18 to have Cline removed. Cline was suspended with pay until a judge could hear Sutton's complaint and Cline's response. Although Sutton said she was prepared to begin showing evidence today in court, Cline was not. So Hobgood tried to first address some motions that attorneys had filed to quash some of the dozen subpoenas Cline said she had filed to bring in witnesses.

Among the people called to court were reporter J. Andrew Curliss and editors John Drescher and Steve Riley of The News & Observer, whom Cline wanted to appear to speak to information contained in several news articles the Raleigh newspaper published in September 2011 about some of Cline's cases.

Attorney Amanda Martin of Raleigh appeared on behalf of the reporter and editors, saying journalists are protected from testifying as court witnesses under a state "shield law" unless three conditions are met, including that the information the journalist would provide is relevant to the case and cannot be obtained from any other source. Martin argued that these conditions aren't satisfied.

Cline began to argue why the newspaper representatives should be ordered to testify, but after seeing her have repeated difficulty speaking, Hobgood recessed the court until next week. In addition to scheduling court for Feb. 20, Hobgood said the case could stretch through lunchtime Tuesday, Feb. 21, and the following Friday, Feb. 24, if necessary.

As Cline gathered her belongings to leave the courtroom, two people walked to her to embrace her, including attorney James E. Rogers, who said Cline worked for him at one time in his private practice. The judge "did the right thing" by continuing the case, Rogers said. While other attorneys have come out to criticize Cline for her lack of restraint when accusing Hudson of bias, there are also a lot of people who are supporting her as she faces potential removal, Rogers said.

"I would hope that my friends would be there to support me, and still love me," Rogers said of Cline's difficulties.

Read a full story in the Feb. 15 issue of the Independent Weekly

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