Durham's top judge said Tuesday that he plans to meet with Clerk of the Court James Carr, the State Bureau of Investigation and District Attorney Jim Hardin to find out why files in several high-profile cases are missing from the Durham courthouse.
In two recent cases involving prosecutor Ralph Strickland, District Court Judge Craig Brown and lawyer Wesley Covington, files have disappeared, meaning authorities might never fully know what happened or who authorized the reopening of old cases, which is done only rarely under North Carolina law.
In the case of Gregory Watts, files were cleared from the county's court computer system and paper records were removed from the shelves even though the SBI denied his request for an expunction three times. Some of the records in the Watts case reappeared after The News & Observer raised questions about the case, but important computer records are still erased.
Last week Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, who signed two orders in the Watts case, told the state Attorney General's Office that he might have been misled about Watts' eligibility for expunction, and Hudson asked the state attorneys to look into the case.
Still missing from the court record is a document authorizing the reopening of the cases. Superior Court Judge David LaBarre says Hardin signed that order agreeing to put the cases back on the court calendar. Hardin says he didn't.
In a letter to The N&O on Tuesday, Hardin stated that he had reviewed the files in the case and Strickland had full authority to dismiss those cases.
In another case, court computers indicate Judge Brown last year overturned two 1980s drunken-driving convictions for Ronald Tabron, though Brown says he remembers neither and was out of town at a judicial conference when one was filed. Covington represented Tabron in that case.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
"Judge seeks files mystery answers" - John Sullivan, News & Observer (August 25, 1999)