Local News

Easley: Nifong 'Poorest Appointment' Made by Governor

Posted February 3, 2007
Updated February 4, 2007

— North Carolina's governor told law students in New York last month that Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong broke a promise when he ran for a full term after being appointed to fill a vacancy.

"I almost un-appointed him when he decided to run," Gov. Mike Easley said in a speech January 22 to students at New York University, The News & Observer reported Saturday.

"I rate that as probably the poorest appointment that I've," the governor trailed off before adding "I've made some good ones."

The News & Observer obtained a recording of the speech from the university's spokesman.

Easley went to New York to speak about public service. He spent much of his time before the students talking about his political career. He and discussed Nifong after an audience member asked him about the sexual assault case in which three former Duke University lacrosse players were charged.

Easley, a former prosecutor and state attorney general, said Nifong had done a poor job, adding, "You don't need me to tell you that."

Nifong didn't return telephone messages and one of his lawyers, David Freedman, declined comment. The governor's office refused to allow interviews with Easley, the newspaper said.

Nifong handed the case to the state Attorney General Roy Cooper last month after he was charged with ethics violations by the State Bar. The bar charged Nifong with violating rules by making statements early in the case and of withholding DNA evidence and not telling the truth about it.

Former prosecutor Dan Boyce said Easley's comments were "very unusual" but not inappropriate. Boyce said the most interesting part of the statement would be that it could prompt the State Bar to call Easley as a witness for its case. Easley's statements prompt new questions about Nifong's motivation in regards to the Duke case.

"What the State Bar could look to is the real motivations that Mr. Nifong had in making the public statements," Boyce said. "Was he doing it for his own personal or political gain, or was he doing it for his own financial gain?"

Easley appointed Nifong as the Durham prosecutor in April 2005 after naming then-DA Jim Hardin to a judgeship. Easley said Nifong, one of Hardin's assistant, said he wouldn't run for the office.

A woman hired to dance at a Duke lacrosse team party told police March 14 she was raped and beaten. Rape charges have been dropped, but three men still face sexual offense and kidnapping charges.

The accused players - David Evans, 23, of Bethesda, Maryland; Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, New York, and Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, New Jersey - say they are innocent.

The governor also was critical of Nifong's early statements, in which he told national news media that the case involved a racially motivated assault by lacrosse players.

"That's how all this mess got started," Easley said. "He challenged the defense lawyers by talking about the case, calling the kids 'hooligans.' "

"You can't comment on that except in the courtroom, and when you do, then the defense lawyers have to stand up for their client. Then it's on. All the rules are out the window, then you have chaos, and that's why those rules are so important and that's what you got in this case. It's chaotic. It looks bad for North Carolina. It looks bad for the DA's office. It looks bad for the criminal justice system in general."

Easley said 2004 state law requires disclosure of all evidence in such cases.

This story is closed for comments.

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  • cnsallen Feb 7, 2007

    pcmd10, I think you have it wrong. Being a Wal-Mart greeter would make one assume Nifong didn't go to jail for obstruction of justice. I would say his new job would be pots & pans at Central Prison.

  • thelmasgirl Feb 7, 2007

    In Durham N.C. you have to have a lawyer whether you are guilty or not.. I wonder how many innocent people are setting in jail because of Nifong and other DAs jus like hime. What goes around comes around sooner or later

  • thelmasgirl Feb 5, 2007

    I don't get why Nifong is still drawing a paycheck ,if he was not good enough to run for office why did the governor appoint him as fill in. But most of all how can he be allowed to try anybody for anything without it coming back to bite somebody in the butt. It is evident that he is not trustworthy and any ruling he gets in court will probably be appealed. so I guess he is being paid to do nothing. The officials in Nc are still blind deaf and dumb because he is still D.A.

  • pcmd10 Feb 5, 2007

    Mr. Easley,
    First I would like to say "DUH"! I believe the "confession" of an obvious fact is good...for a politician to finally admit. But, your job is not done. Don't you think those three boys, having had their lives ruined, have been punished enough? Drop the darn charges, get Mr. Nifong disbarred then give him his new job as a Wal Mart greeter! This should show us all that politicians will to anything to further a career. Pathetic!

  • Punky Feb 5, 2007

    Thats respectable that Easley admitted his mistakes, a rarity in public office. Unfortunately his failure to "pull the plug" on Nifongs second run has caused irreparable damage to to lacrosse players and to Durham's image.

  • superman Feb 4, 2007

    Good for the governor to admit he made a mistake but he sure as heck took his time about admitting it in public.

  • al1793 Feb 4, 2007

    Mike will never stop misappropriating money - it is what Democrats do - Tax and Spend.

    We were the idiots who re-elected him after he raised taxes.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Feb 4, 2007

    At least Easley admitted his mistakes. Now if he just quit appropriating money from the highway trust fund to fund his socialist agenda. This would eliminate the need for toll roads in NC.

  • builder276 Feb 4, 2007

    just goes to show the quality of low-life that can be appointed to office in this state. His appointment was on the condition that he not run for a full term, low-life

  • BLOCKHEAD Feb 4, 2007

    I wonder what Mike Nifong's thought's are as he reads the governors comments about him ??
    comments from lowly third cass citizens are one thing.
    but those comments coming from the governor, Oouch!