Friday, April 25, 2008

Durham DA Indy Endorsement: be wary

North Carolina holds its primaries this year on Tuesday, May 6.

In Durham there are four candidates running for District Attorney on the Democratic line. There are no candidates running on the Republican line in heavily Democratic Durham County. (In 2004 the Kerry-Edwards ticket got almost 70% of the vote.)

Today the weekly Independent, which describes itself as "progressive" and supported the now disbarred Mike Nifong in both the 2006 Democratic primary and the general election, announced its endorsement.

The Indy began - - -

A year after N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed the false charges against Dave Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, the Duke lacrosse case still shadows the Durham district attorney's office—and this year's Democratic primary.

In 2006, when the Independent endorsed Mike Nifong for district attorney over Freda Black and Keith Bishop, we misjudged Nifong's complicity in a wrongful and ultimately fraudulent prosecution. Nifong did not deserve your vote—but neither did his challengers, Black and Bishop, who are running for the office again this year.

Freda Black is an attorney with the good ol' boy Durham firm Clayton, Myrick, McClanahan & Coulter, handling civil litigation and criminal defense cases. She was an assistant district attorney for 14 years and gained national recognition in 2003 for her successful murder prosecution of novelist and former newspaper columnist Michael Peterson. She also made a name for herself in the high-profile 2006 election, with her constant attacks on Nifong's integrity.

But Black's ethical integrity is questionable, too. She is a capable attorney, but one who has shown that she'll win at all costs, even if it means treading the line between zealous representation of her client and overlooking justice. Last year, the Indy reported about her 2001 prosecution of Erick Daniels, who, evidence suggests, is innocent of armed robbery. Even when Black heard that someone else wanted to confess to the robbery and exonerate Daniels, Black clung to her conviction. Unlike the lacrosse players, Daniels is in prison.

Bottom line: We're not sure Black will properly handle the power Nifong abused. And neither are many assistant prosecutors. If Black wins, expect many defections, which would throw the district attorney's office into a tailspin.

Keith Bishop is simply unqualified. He is a private practice attorney with little criminal trial experience. There's no indication that he can manage the office of more than 30 people

We think voters should support assistant district attorney Tracey Cline. Cline began her legal career as a public defender, representing the poor—valuable experience for a prosecutor. She has served in Durham as an assistant district attorney for 14 years, working her way up to first assistant district attorney and then chief assistant district attorney, when David Saacks was appointed top prosecutor after Nifong resigned. (Saacks is not running to keep his seat.)

Cline is a great attorney who has already shown that she can manage a large caseload. She understands the need to address escalating juvenile crime, and as a black woman, could be an excellent role model for the young African Americans caught in the system.

She is putting to rest questions that she was involved in Nifong's lacrosse prosecution, a concern among some critics. She told the Independent that police officers came to her asking advice about what paperwork to complete, a search warrant or a non-testimonial order, and when they had completed the paperwork, filed it with then Assistant District Attorney David Saacks, who signed it.

"I didn't sign anything," Cline said. "All I did was advise them, which I should do on every single case. Under the same situation, any district attorney would do the same thing. The statute requires you to do that."

Saacks corroborated Cline's account under oath during Nifong's criminal contempt hearing.

Mitchell Garrell has been an assistant district attorney for 13 years. He lacks Cline's leadership experience and has never worked as a defender, but Garrell is a fine trial attorney who has the support of some prosecutors in the office. His stance against the death penalty is admirable, as is his willingness to work with the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, but Cline gets the edge in every other category.

Since no Republicans filed, the winner of the Democratic primary will become the county's next district attorney if he or she wins more than 40 percent of the vote. If no one reaches that threshhold, the second-place candidate can request a second primary.



The editorial provides useful information about dates, what's needed to win, and the names of candidates.

But you need to be wary about much that the Indy says about the candidates.

You should be especially wary concerning what the Indy says about ADA Cline and her involvement in the NTO in particular, and the frame-up attempt overall.

The first three comments after the endorsement make that point. I'll present them here and be back tomorrow to say more about the DA's race.

First comment:

Cline is quoted as saying transparency is what is needed in the DA's office. Yet she first denied ANY involvement or knowledge of the Duke case and denied ANY involvement in the unconstitutional DNA sweep of 46 Duke lacrosse players.

Now Cline says she "advised" Durham PD to write up the order (NTO) for DNA ... One would think, a lead prosecutor would want to know the details of a case to determine if probable cause exists ... before advising the police to go forward with such an order.

One would think.... To obtain a non-testimonial order for DNA, authorities are supposed to have probable cause and a reasonable suspicion that the subject of the NTO could have committed the crime.

Was there probable and reasonable suspicion to obtain DNA from 46 citizens when the alleged crime involved only 3 and police had solid evidence that some of the 46 were out of town and not at the party??

Cline also agreed publicly that attorneys have a duty to report unethical conduct among their colleagues but says she lacked insights into what Nifong was doing. "I didn’t have any personal information about what went on in the lacrosse case, other than what the media reported,” she said. But….

Officer Ben Himan testified, under oath, twice repeating the deposition is available online) that Cline told him she had reviewed the lacrosse case file -- offering her opinion that she believed the police had done a good job (?).

Was Officer Himan lying?

At the DA Forum last night, Mitchell Garrell brought up this lack of transparency on Cline's part. Asking people to read the testimony of Officers Himan & Gottlieb, x-DA Nifong and David Saacks - their testimony does not support Cline's claims.

Someone is, well, not being very transparent.

Someone is mincing words and wiggling around – much like your endorsed candidate (Nifong) did in 2006.

Second comment offered with irony:

She is putting to rest questions that she was involved in Nifong's lacrosse prosecution, a concern among some critics.

Third comment:

Would someone ask Ms. Cline why she attended Duke lacrosse hearings with Nifong? See image at link.

Folks, as you look at the photo Ms. Cline is the woman at the right looking directly at Nifong.


Anonymous said...


Tracy Cline, in all likelihood, will be Durham's next DA.

The coruption runs deep...very deep.


RedMountain said...

I agree with Ken (LOL). There is just no candidate that will change things. I don't know if it is so much the corruption that is running deep here or just a status quo of incompetance and favoritism. The justice system in Durham is a sham from top to bottom, law enforcement to the Da's office, to the judges hearing the cases, and to the system of probation monitoring we do not have. The only possible positive here is that I don't see how it can get any worse.

Anonymous said...

How does Durham today compare in corruption to Phenix City, Ala., several decades ago? The feds stepped into that one. Is it time to contact the feds again?