Remember this? Hits a little close to ‘home’ ...
Officials: DA interest probed - Activists deny approaching assistant prosecutor Cline
Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC) - Friday, September 29, 2006
Author: JOHN STEVENSON
Durham Judge David Q. LaBarre and Durham Assistant District Attorney Tracey Cline said Thursday that political activists approached them about accepting a possible gubernatorial appointment as Durham’s chief prosecutor.
Both said they weren’t interested.
The person Cline said approached her with the offer, lawyer Jerry Clayton, denies he did so. LaBarre would not identify the people he said approached him.
The top prosecutor’s job would be open to appointment if County Commissioner Lewis Cheek, the only candidate on the ballot besides District Attorney Mike Nifong, won the Nov. 7 election.
Cheek got enough petition signatures to put his name on the ballot. But after weighing the situation for weeks, he finally declared he would not serve if he won — which would force Gov. Mike Easley to select someone in his place. Despite Cheek’s decision not to serve, his name remains on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate.
A third district attorney candidate, local Republican Party Chairman Steve Monks, is running on an unaffiliated, write-in basis.
Dissatisfaction with Nifong’s handling of the controversial Duke University lacrosse rape case has fueled much of the campaign rhetoric so far, with some voters mounting an “anybody-but-Nifong” initiative.
Cline said Thursday that Clayton asked her about accepting a gubernatorial appointment as district attorney if Cheek won. According to Cline , Clayton suggested that retired Sheriff Roland Leary and state employee and former City Councilman Ed Pope were behind his overture.
Cline said she spurned the idea.
“I am not involved in the political game here,” she said. “I am not involved in any political maneuvering whatsoever. The voters should determine who is the next DA of Durham County. I have always supported Mike Nifong as DA and I continue to do so.”
Clayton denied he discussed the situation with Cline .
“All I can do is deny it because I don’t know anything about it,” he said Thursday. “I’m not in any camp, working for anybody or doing anything in regards to the election.”
But in the past, Clayton has been deeply involved in district attorney politics. He provided heavy support for two unsuccessful candidates: Pat Evans in the 1990s and Freda Black in a Democratic primary four months ago. Black now works for Clayton.
Like Clayton, Leary and Pope denied any maneuvering in the November election.
“I know nothing of what you speak,” Leary said Thursday. “Of course, rumors are abounding. But Roland Leary has done nothing in that direction. That’s just not right. I deny that.”
Even if he wanted to manipulate a possible gubernatorial appointment, he didn’t have the influence to do so, Leary insisted.
“I find the governor to be an independent person who makes his own decisions,” he said. “I don’t know who influences him. I certainly can’t influence him. ... I know the governor, but I’ve never spoken to him about appointments to any office at all.”
Pope said it “would be silly” to make empty promises about an appointment that would be entirely in the governor’s hands.
Cheek also said he was not involved in discussions about the situation.
“I have no idea who is having that conversation with anybody,” he said. “I’m not involved in anything like that at all. I don’t know anybody who is. But I can’t say it surprises me. I expect there are a whole lot of things going on behind the scenes. That’s the nature of politics.”
LaBarre, a retired Superior Court judge who now presides two days a week on the District Court bench, declined Thursday to say who approached him.
He said only that “several different individuals from several different political camps inquired about my interest in the DA’s Office.”
LaBarre said he turned them away.
“In my judgment, a judge should not be involved in the DA election,” he added. “I do not intend to be even indirectly involved. The voters have several choices in the DA’s race. I would not want my name injected into it as any sort of inducement to vote or not vote for any particular candidate.”
Nifong said Thursday it was his understanding that inducements had, in fact, been made.
“I was told Roland [Leary] and Ed [Pope] were making claims or promises or whatever to members of the African-American community that if they would vote for Lewis Cheek, then Tracey Cline would be the next DA,” said Nifong.
“I also heard they made representations to the white community that if they voted for Lewis Cheek, then Dave LaBarre would be the next DA,” Nifong added.
Cline is black; Cheek is white.
“People have accused me of dividing the community with the lacrosse case,” the district attorney said. “It seems to me the lacrosse case has merely revealed divisions that already existed. This ongoing campaign by Roland Leary and Ed Pope is the most divisive thing I’ve ever seen.”
Meanwhile, Nifong confirmed Thursday that Pope had asked him to intercede on behalf of a Durham man named Christopher Andrew Best who is imprisoned for armed robbery.
“Ed came to me and asked if I would do something to reduce his sentence,” Nifong said. “I told him I had no authority to do that and no one else in the court system did either.”
Pope acknowledged he asked Nifong about Best, saying he did so because he was acquainted with the convicted man’s family.
“It wasn’t an influence thing or anything like that,” he said. “I was just asking him for a little help. I didn’t know what he could or could not do as district attorney. It had nothing to do with the election.”
Which proves that then Gov. (W)Easley was completely in the loop regarding The DukeLax Frame.