A Durham defense lawyer who was involved in ousting the public defender from his office six years ago says that Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline should resign and that she is subject to a removal petition under state law that he is "strongly" thinking of filing.
C. Scott Holmes, a lawyer who has represented a range of clients in criminal cases, was in the courtroom during last week's extraordinary hearing in which Cline made accusations against the senior judge, Orlando Hudson.
In a written post on his law firm's blog, Holmes said that he watched with interest as Cline tried to argue her case and that he remembers thinking it should stop.
"She is not making sense," Holmes wrote of his impressions from the courtroom. "She is incoherent, unprepared, and embarassing herself. She tried to argue cases she had not read."
Holmes points out that state law allows for a petition to remove Cline. It would go to Hudson.
Cline has denied any wrongdoing, and said in the court hearing that she did not take lightly her decision to take action against Hudson. Her effort was dismissed by Judge Carl Fox of Orange County, a former prosecutor.
Holmes said that he believes Cline's actions meet two standards for removal under the petition process -- that she has engaged in "willful misconduct in office" and that she has committed conduct "prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute."
In an interview, Holmes said he is "strongly" considering whether to file a removal petition, and is aware of others in Durham who are also considering it, but he would not identify them. He said he is "weeks" away from a filing due to the work involved, but said someone needs to step forward and "restore order" in Durham's judicial system.
He said the state agency that regulates lawyers generally acts much slower than what is needed in Durham right now, one reason he believes Cline should resign. He said he hopes she resigns before anyone, including himself, takes action.
"It is never too late to do the right thing," Holmes wrote. "She should withdraw her motions, apologize for her mistakes, resign, and begin preparing for her bar defense of her license."
The News & Observer has recently reported on inquiries by N.C. State Bar investigators into cases in which Cline's conduct is under scrutiny. The bar regulates and disciplines lawyers in the state.
Holmes represented a client, an assistant public defender, in 2005 who followed the removal petition procedure in seeking to remove then-public defender Robert Brown Jr. from his post over sexual misconduct allegations. Brown resigned.
Holmes practices mainly in the Triangle. Records show he has been appointed to represent indigent defendants more than 115 times over the past five years, including in death penalty murder cases.
Holmes writes that Cline is doing "irreparable harm to Durham by personally attacking Judge Hudson."
"And it is not just that she is attacking him," Holmes writes. "The manner of her attack shows that she is over her head, out of her league, and not an intelligent attorney."
Holmes cites some of the language used in Cline's recent filings, including that Cline alleges Hudson is a "monarch" who acts with no factual basis and seeks to attack the "heart of our justice system."
He cites other examples, concluding that Cline's language is "extreme, outrageous, and inappropriate."
"Her motion does more to hurt the integrity of our justice system than any ruling by Judge Hudson," Holmes wrote.
Holmes wrote that Cline's attack has caused more harm to Durham than the prosecution brought by former DA Mike Nifong against three Duke lacrosse players who were later declared innocent.
In the interview, he said people expect that a prosecutor with the power and authority of the district attorney's office would support allegations with facts, something he said Cline has not done.
Cline is scheduled to be in a hearing this week about motions she presented to Judge James E. Hardin that are false. Holmes wrote that he expects Hardin to issue a warning, but nothing more severe. Legal experts have said that Hardin has the power to sanction Cline, including disbarrment, for what apparently happened with the motions.
Separately, Durham resident Sean Haugh has launched a "Tracey Cline Must Resign" page on Facebook.
Haugh is a former chairman and executive director of the Libertarian Party in North Carolina.
In an email exchange, Haugh wrote that he had looked at whether he should file a removal petition but instead wanted to curate a Web site that would hopefully force Cline to step down.
-- J. Andrew Curliss
(CORRECTION: This post has been updated to reflect that Holmes' involvement in a petition against former public defender Robert Brown Jr. was in 2005. The original post reported incorrectly that it was in 2007.)