The hearing on whether Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline keeps her job continues tomorrow. Here is an early look at Bob Wilson's column coming Sunday in The Durham News.
BY BOB WILSON
There is something of Mattie Ross in Durham defense attorney Kerry Sutton.
You remember Mattie Ross, if not from Charles Portis’ novel “True Grit” then from the John Wayne or Coen Brothers films. Mattie Ross of Yell County, Ark., was a never-say-die heroine of the golden west, and even the Duke came to admire her, though it wasn’t easy.
Kerry Sutton isn’t on a quest to find the outlaw Tom Chaney, but she is determined to apply the best of her ability to unseat Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline. This hasn’t come easy, either. Cline, who has been waging a nasty war against her one-time mentor, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson (“he has the reprobate mind of a monarch”) for months, is an elected official.
But not just any elected official. Removing a district attorney under General Statute 7A-66 is serious business in the state’s legal community, not to be undertaken lightly. In fact, only one other DA has been removed under the law.
That Cline has dishonored – nay, defiled – the office of public prosecutor with her vile attacks on Judge Hudson because he ruled against her in a couple of hot-button cases is a fact few would dispute. Lawyer Sutton had had her fill last year when she began her blitz against Cline, who was elected DA after the implosion of former DA Mike Nifong, he of the 2006 Duke lacrosse frameup.
The risks are immense for Sutton. If Cline isn’t removed, Sutton will face the wrath of a DA scorned. Of course, Sutton knows that, and to the credit of several other attorneys who have since taken up the cudgel with her, she remains steel-willed.
As Mattie Ross said, that’s true grit.
Whatever Tracey Cline’s fate at the hands of Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood (son of the late esteemed Judge Hamilton Hobgood), Sutton will draw praise and criticism from her fellow barristers. Far more will praise her, I suspect, than will condemn her. In that respect, Cline has made the way easier for Sutton.
Kerstin Walker Sutton is a graduate of N.C. Central Law School, as is Cline. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications at UNC-Chapel Hill. You might say she has communicated her intentions clearly and concisely in the Cline affair.
Like many other local attorneys, Sutton learned real law as an assistant in the Orange County DA’s office and similar positions. She even worked for a while for the Law Offices of James Scott Ferrin, who is not, as some no doubt think, an attorney who looks like actor Robert Vaughn. (There really is a James Scott Ferrin. He’s a 1990 Duke Law graduate.)
It’s possible that Sutton won’t succeed. But win or lose, the words of Theodore Roosevelt, speaking at the Sorbonne in 1910, ring true as much today as they did then.
Salute those brave souls who spend themselves in a worthy cause, said Roosevelt, those who “at the best know in the end the triumph of great achievements and who at the worst at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
For sure, no one will ever accuse Kerry Sutton of being a timid soul.