Durham Loses Another Prosecutor

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline, who replaced infamous Duke lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong; put at least one innocent man (and likely more) in prison; alleged a vast conspiracy against her between a state judge, defense attorneys, and the News & Observer newspaper; and (most importantly!) took runner-up in the 2011 Agitator.com Worst Prosecutor of the Year Award . . . has been removed from office.

She was a prosecutor who would not back down from anyone. She acted with fierce conviction when she believed she was right. She was aggressive, too, and often framed her pursuit of justice as advocacy for crime victims.

It also shows the reasons she was permanently removed from her job Friday – a stunning inability to get facts straight and an unwillingness to change course when confronted with reasons to do so.

Cline, 48, did not speak in court that January day in Durham, watching as a judge dismissed her claim in a matter of minutes.

She is out of office now because of her words and actions against Durham’s senior judge – lengthy filings filled with vitriolic language, unsubstantiated allegations of corruption, tales of a conspiracy with The News & Observer and other accusations of misconduct that have been obliterated by three judges.

Cline stands by it all, telling Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood last week that “what I recorded in those motions was absolutely true.”

The flawed behavior that cost Cline her job wasn’t new. It has been displayed in a range of criminal cases she handled over the years, according to an examination of court documents, transcripts, interviews and news reports.

But the action she took against Hudson was in full public view, and it was aimed at a judge, not a criminal defendant.

Which is probably why she was removed. Likewise, Cline’s predecessor made the mistake of wrongly targeted a group of innocent defendants who had the money and clout to fight back. Most don’t.
This part is interesting:

Carol Tavris, a Los Angeles social psychologist who has researched and written about the behavior and decision-making of prosecutors, said studies show the human brain, when sorting out conflicting beliefs and actions, will engage in a powerful act known as “self-justification.”

It can keep people from admitting they are wrong and can be more powerful and more dangerous than an explicit lie, she said in an interview and in a 2007 book she co-authored, “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me).”

People will convince themselves they are correct even when they are not, she said. It happens in everything from bad marriages to buying a car that costs too much.

Self-justification is especially concerning in the justice system, Tavris said, because authorities often view themselves as “good guys” doing the “right thing.”

Tavris said Cline was likely faced with “dissonance” in the face of unfavorable rulings and questions about her work, which leads the brain to “self-justify” decisions and actions.

“It’s really, really, really hard to face the reality that you screwed up,” she said. “When we have a view of ourselves as good, competent, ethical, honest people and we are now confronted with evidence that we did something that was incompetent, unethical, immoral or harmful, we have two choices. We can fess up – say, ‘Oh, my God, look at this evidence, what did I do? How can I make amends?’ Or, we deny.”

In the removal inquiry, Cline did get to speak about her allegation, based on the time stamp, that Hudson decided a case early. She was faced with affidavits from court clerks, testimony and a courtroom transcript that contradicted what she said.

Cline did not yield, saying broadly that she knew the judge decided the case early.

“Are you willing to admit that it’s possible that you’re wrong about what Judge Hudson did?” a lawyer asked her.

Cline said no.

Public choice theory tells us that public officials don’t magically start behaving selflessly and altruistically simply because they’ve chosen a career in public service. They’ll still act in their own interest most of the time, as we all do. That’s not an indictment of public service. It’s a recognition of human nature, and how we’re hard-wired. In terms of policy, it’s prescribes that we design our institutions in a way that accounts for how people actually behave, not for an idealized version of how we hope they’ll behave. The left tends to dismiss public choice theory outright. The right tends to believe it’s applicable to all areas of public service except law enforcement and criminal justice.

These are generalizations, of course. There are exceptions on both sides. But good people don’t thrive in systems with bad incentives. You either attract bad actors, turn good actors into bad ones, or the good actors drop out, leaving you only with the bad ones.

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

23 Responses to “Durham Loses Another Prosecutor”

  1. #1 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    This is one of many “good news” stories posted (as I catch up after a long weekend). Supreme Being, I hope this is a trend that lasts.

    studies show the human brain, when sorting out conflicting beliefs and actions, will engage in a powerful act known as “self-justification.”

    It can keep people from admitting they are wrong…

    Who can read THAT and not think of dozens of examples!

    There’re studies showing people with “superior” intellect as usually being less emphatic about their opinions/positions. They are able to see all sides of an argument and question their own proof. Haven’t noticed this characteristic in any state agents.

  2. #2 |  Mike | 

    Very telling that what it took for her to get removed is not the rampant prosecutorial misconduct, it was going after a judge.

  3. #3 |  SJE | 

    The shame is that Cline was not dismissed for putting innocent people in jail, but only dismissed after getting mouthy with the judge. Even despite getting in hot water with the judge, her colleagues in the prosecutors office were continuing to support her statements and actions: evidence perhaps of the rot going deeper.

  4. #4 |  BamBam | 

    @2 the mistreatment of one of her superiors is what did her in. You see, serf (us) < prosecutor (.gov employee) all .gov employees. Don’t you love the cognitive dissonance? Society is brainwashed into believing this massive lie.

    *ANY* .gov employee is > serf, as evidenced by mountains of preferential treatment (“professional courtesy”). The latest one being that New Orleans story about the parking tickets being dismissed because the “rules were unclear”.

    This is all morally wrong.

  5. #5 |  S. Clark Brown | 

    “The right tends to believe it’s applicable to all areas of public service except law enforcement and criminal justice.”

    Hits the nail on the head. I’ve long thought this and this is the first time I’ve seen it articulated so succinctly. Conservatives _worship_ the law enforcement community.

  6. #6 |  Danny | 

    “The left tends to dismiss public choice theory outright…”

    I’d like a citation for that, especially since “public choice theory” sounds like a high-falutin’ label to stick onto an aphorism that is so obvious it makes your eyeballs bleed.

  7. #7 |  Brandon | 

    Danny, just look at anything that has come out of Joe Biden’s or Barack Obama’s mouth in the last 3 years.

  8. #8 |  JLA | 

    ” Self-justification is especially concerning in the justice system, Tavris said, because authorities often view themselves as “good guys” doing the “right thing.” ”

    Reminds me of the famous quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

    “Men, in order to do evil, must first believe that what they are doing is good.”

  9. #9 |  Dante | 

    “But good people don’t thrive in systems with bad incentives. You either attract bad actors, turn good actors into bad ones, or the good actors drop out, leaving you only with the bad ones.”

    The above is the best description I have ever seen as to what has happened to Law Enforcement/ the IRS/ the CIA/ etc.

    Nobody with a shred of talent or human decency would stay at those places. The only people who stay are life’s losers, the dregs of humanity with no hope for better employement. So the dregs of our society have been given guns, badges, authority to kill and immunity when they do.

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!) makes more sense now, doesn’t it?

  10. #10 |  CSD | 

    “The N&O asked Cline to put any of her concerns about its coverage in writing. She said she was already working on it.

    The writings cover more than 600 pages and would reveal deep anger – directed toward a judge.”

    This just about wraps up my diagnose that “The Bioch is crazy”.

  11. #11 |  B | 

    Durham is a lovely place to live (I miss it quite a lot) but yeah…you better hope you never have to interact with the criminal justice system there.

  12. #12 |  John P. | 

    Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) is a wonderful book.

    It should be required reading for all cops and prosecutors… oh, wait… only if cops war smart enough to read and comprehend it…

  13. #13 |  Rob R. | 

    As a graduate of George Mason University (B.S. Econ., J.D.) I really and truely appreciate any reference to Public Choice theory (which was beaten into my head with Smith and Hayek.) You’d better watch out, that Invisble Hand can really hurt….

  14. #14 |  DarkEFang | 

    Does anyone have any actual info about what’s going on at Cato? I’m reading a lot of crazy rumors about a Koch/neocon takeover which sound fairly implausible. I figured that if anyone had any inside knowledge, it would be the readers here.

  15. #15 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    “Self Justification” is prevalent among those who cannot metacognize. In other words, it’s a fancy term for “stubborn dumb fuck”.

  16. #16 |  Gordon Clason | 

    Ms Cline is a sociopath. She deliberately and maliciously supressed evidence of innocence and created “evidence” to railroad people she KNEW were not guilty. Her gross malfeasance and egregious violation of good faith deserves to be punished by spending the rest of her life in the same maximum security cage she tried to frame innocent people into.

    This woman has no conscience, no morals and no compassion. A fitting successor to Mike Nifong.

  17. #17 |  John C. Randolph | 

    Seems to me that it’s high time we quit referring to the careers of self-absorbed tyrants as “public service.”

  18. #18 |  AlgerHiss | 

    There must be something in the water in Durham County. What were the odds of having two extremist DA’s in a row? (Maybe they’re all extremists. I dunno.)

    Currently they are showing a Leon Stanback as DA. Let’s see how Leon fares.

  19. #19 |  Stanely Ketchel, Middleweight | 

    I dunno guys. Something in the water, or maybe just one extremist DA replaced by an honest prosecutor blowing the whistle on official corruption. I have no idea. But when I hear prosecutors bitching about judges there really only are two possibiities: the judge is fair after all and he/she isn’t used to a fair shake for both sides, or, who would know a scumbag better than a scumbag prosecutor.

  20. #20 |  c andrew | 

    fBut good people don’t thrive in systems with bad incentives. You either attract bad actors, turn good actors into bad ones, or the good actors drop out, leaving you only with the bad ones.

    Isn’t this the same argument that von Hayek made in “The Road to Serfdom” chapter, “Why the worst get on top?”

  21. #21 |  Dana Gower | 

    http://probateshark.blogspot.com/

    Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline filed a notice of appeal Friday after a Superior Court judge ordered her to be removed from office for her inflammatory public criticisms of another judge in recent months.
    Cline’s top assistant prosecutor, Jim Dornfried, has filed to run against Hudson, which could potentially set up another battle.
    Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez, who testified on Cline’s behalf, did not have a comment about her removal. However, a Durham police spokeswoman said the department will continue to work with the DA’s office “as they have been during this time.”

  22. #22 |  Deoxy | 

    But good people don’t thrive in systems with bad incentives. You either attract bad actors, turn good actors into bad ones, or the good actors drop out, leaving you only with the bad ones.

    THIS – it says so succinctly what I’ve tried to tell people for a long time. No insidious plan is required, no conspiracy… just set up a system with bad incentives, and over time, the incentives WILL be followed!

  23. #23 |  John David Galt | 

    SJE has it right. It’s always good to see one of the smug dastards who normally have immunity to the law and abuse it to the hilt get a taste of their own medicine.

    And once in a while, the same thing happens to bad cops, too. But I have yet to see it happen to a *judge* who deserved it.

Leave a Reply