NC appeals court upholds removal of ex-DA

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A North Carolina appeals court has upheld the removal of former Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline for bringing her office and the county justice system into “disrepute.”

Cline was ousted from office in 2012 after a judge found that she had made statements about then senior resident superior court judge Orlando Hudson with “malice and reckless disregard for the truth,” the Raleigh News & Observer reports.

Cline had accused Hudson in court documents of retaliating against her by dismissing a murder case she had refused to drop. She called the dismissal of the case “an extreme abuse of power” and the beginning of a “corrupt” smear campaign against her.

A trial court judge who presided over Cline’s removal proceedings found that the statements constituted “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute,” one of seven specific bases for removing a district attorney under state law.

The appeals court, in a 3-0 ruling (PDF) Tuesday, said lawyers who make derogatory remarks about judges are protected from civil or criminal liability unless actual malice is shown. “However, these principles only offer immunity from a civil suit for damages, not from other forms of discipline,” Judge Sanford Steelman Jr. wrote for the panel.

Cline, who can appeal the decision to the state supreme court, could not be reached for comment. She is also awaiting a hearing in a pending disciplinary proceeding against her by the state bar.

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