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Former Duke Lacrosse Prosecutor Disbarred

Posted June 16, 2007
Updated June 17, 2007

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— Embattled prosecutor Mike Nifong said Saturday afternoon that he should be disbarred for his handling of the Duke lacrosse case for breaking 27 of 32 rules of professional conduct. (View a list of the ethics violations.)

After five days of testimony from investigators, SBI agents, legal professionals and experts and cleared lacrosse players and their parents, the three-member North Carolina State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Commission agreed.

"This matter has been a fiasco," Chairman F. Lane Williamson said. "There's no doubt about it. It's been a fiasco for a number of people starting with the defendants and moving out from there, for the justice system in general." (Watch Williamson's talk about Nifong's disbarment.)

Nifong sat motionless, one hand resting over his mouth, as Williamson recounted how the district attorney engaged in dishonest and deceitful conduct. (What's next for Nifong?)

He said Nifong's early comments about the case – which included a confident proclamation that he would not allow Durham to become known for "a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black girl" – were purposefully designed to boost his campaign for district attorney.

"At the time, he was facing a primary, and yes, he was politically naive," Williamson said. "But we can draw no other conclusion that those initial statements he made were to further his political ambitions."

Nifong will not appeal the punishment, his attorney, David Freedman, said.

"He hopes this helps restore some of the confidence in the criminal justice system of North Carolina," Freedman said. (Watch Freedman talk about Nifong's decision.)

"On one hand, it's very devastating. On the other hand, he's been going through this process for a long time, so you always have some semblance of relief when the process is over with regardless of the outcome."

The North Carolina State Bar charged Nifong, who announced on Friday he will resign from his post as district attorney, with making misleading and inflammatory comments about the lacrosse athletes, lying to both the court and State Bar investigators and withholding critical DNA test results from the players' defense attorneys.

The committee, after deliberating for a little more than an hour, unanimously agreed with the Bar on almost every charge, including the most serious allegations -- that Nifong's actions involved "dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation."

David Evans Sr., the father of exonerated player David Evans, testified during the second phase of the ethics trial about the stress he and his family were put under for more than a year as they waited not knowing what would happen and questions why Nifong pressed ahead with the case. (Watch Evans' entire testimony.)

"He placed his career and reputation on a woman he didn't interview and persisted with this case and then gave up the case because of a conflict of interest," an angry Evans testified. "And then the word of the Attorney General of North Carolina says they didn't do it."

"We were in the fight of our life," Mary Ellen Finnerty testified about her family's life during that period.(Watch Finnerty's entire testimony.)

"Nobody can give any of the three families back the 14 months we have gone through," she said. "The emotional pain, the physical pain -- the fright of (lying) in bed at night and saying my son … could go to jail for 30 years for a crime (he) didn't commit. That was frightening."

During the ethics trial, Nifong acknowledged he knew there was no DNA evidence connecting Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty to the 28-year-old accuser when he indicted them on charges of rape, sexual offense and kidnapping. Nifong later charged Evans with the same crimes.

But months later, the North Carolina Attorney General's Office concluded the three players were "innocent" -- a fact Williamson hammered home on Saturday.

"We acknowledge the actual innocence of the defendants, and there's nothing here that has done anything but support that assertion," Williamson said.

Williamson said it appeared that throughout his investigation, Nifong was looking for any evidence to link a lacrosse player to the accuser's story to support his initial comments that he was sure an attack occurred.

"He's already out there," Williamson said. "He's way out there by then. He looks foolish if he does not go forward."

One of the most serious ethics violations Nifong was found to have committed involved his failure to turn over DNA test results that identified genetic material from several men -- but no members of the lacrosse team -- in the accuser's underwear and body.

In court documents and hearings in May, June and September, Nifong told two different judges that he had no more evidence that could be considered helpful to the defense. Nifong said he didn't realize the defense hadn't been given all the DNA test results until December -- a suggestion Williamson found laughable.

"He knew. He admits he knew," Williamson said during Nifong attorney Dudley Witt's closing argument. "How could he not know if he had read it? How could he not know?"

Witt admitted his client made "multiple, egregious mistakes." He insisted none were made intentionally, but struggled to offer another explanation. (Read more about closing statements in Nifong's ethics trial.)

"It didn't click," Witt said as he tried to explain away one of Nifong's errors. "His mind is just his mind. That's the way it works. It just didn't click."

Along with accusing Nifong of withholding the DNA evidence and making misleading and inflammatory comments about the three athletes, the North Carolina State Bar said he lied to both the court and bar investigators. The committee found Nifong broke the state's rules of professional conduct more than two dozen times.

"I would say there are no winners in this scenario," said Kevin Finnerty, Collin's father.

"With that said, I think there's closure. I think it's appropriate and I think it's justice.

"I think he brought it on himself."

The players' defense attorneys have pledged to seek criminal contempt charges next week in Durham from a judge who has already reminded Nifong he has the authority to impose punishment. They suggested the calls for a federal civil rights investigation were not out of line. (Watch the attorneys talk about what's next for Nifong.).

"I don't think any of us are done with Mr. Nifong yet," said Jim Cooney, Seligmann's attorney.

Nifong declined to comment Saturday while he and his wife quietly slipped out of the courthouse through a side door. (Watch Nifong leave.)

276 Comments

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  • wolfmandan Jun 18, 2007

    Nifong got what he deserved..Its the three players that will be labeled for the rest of their lives..That's really sad..Best of wishes to them and their families..

  • casp3r Jun 18, 2007

    Anyone that says something happend ( have you seen her picture) ??? The other girl said nothing happend. This was nothing but a poor little girl wanting money for nothing!!!! It was what 3 or 4 men dna on or in her and not one of them was a duke lacross player?? Give me a break.

  • Sunkist Jun 18, 2007

    I will always believe something did happen in that house on that night, rather it was rape or inappropriate touching something did happen. Only The accuser, The duke lacrosse boys and Jesus knows what happen. We will never know the truth until one of them make the wrong move on the Right person the next time. Again I believe something went on in that house, might not hvae been rape but something???????????

  • 3121 Jun 18, 2007

    The accuser is the one who started this whole fiasco. Why wouldn't they try to seek "revenge" against her unless they paid her to keep quiet. Revenge is the only motive for going after Nifong. He was just doing his job. They shouldn't have had her there in the first place. When you play with fire, you get burned. But I guess they didn't know she was crazy. Truth of the matter is nobody knows what really happened except for the participants. Everyone is capable of lying. Especially when he's been exposed.

  • Ladybug1948 Jun 18, 2007

    I DO NOT believe that Nifong should b e disbared unless the state wishes to disbar all attorney's and district who have been a part of coercion and lies through out the justice system. 90% of attorney and District Attorney's are better liars than car salesmen, however, I believe that they should not be allowed to practice law anywhere if they cannot hold firm to the oath of which they all take when becoming lawyers. They are all habitual offenders. This was also confirmed in the Jessica Lundsford trial at the side bar. it was said that it isn't important that a crime was committed but if the attorney can prove that the accuser is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, and they don't card what they have to do to get a conviction. they will most always lie and be part of coercion in getting the lie. The corruption in the justice system any where is as serious as any class B felony and expecially when coercion is involved. These attorney's don't act alone. It is a "click" among themselves.

  • pancake Jun 18, 2007

    Flipping burgers? Don't think so. How long before his great Alma Mater The Tarhole University offers him a job TEACHING other tarholes to be lawyers like him? This hatred of anything Duke was just another component of his trying to crucify these three kids.

  • dlmagoo Jun 18, 2007

    Did anyone read Duke's comment on all this?? They are laying 99% of it all on Nifong's door and taking almost no responsibility on themselves, as if those upstanding 88 didn't do anything to exacerbate the situation at all. I agree that Duke should pay for the boy's education wherever they choose to attend for the rest of their time. Durham and Nifong should pay their attorney's fees, and that includes the Mayor personally. And while their at it...they should throw a percentage at old Al and Jesse just for good measure, since they slandered these boys and helped to incite the negative feelings in Durham.

  • RUN1UPNYA Jun 18, 2007

    GUESS HE WILL BE FLIPPING BURGERS NOW.

  • ladyblue Jun 18, 2007

    In my 60 years I've never heard a minority admit they were wrong about a racial issue. When they have run out of excuses, they then say the whole records and facts were falsified. There is unfairness in all aspects of life, just because you've been treated unfairly doesn't mean it's always racism. Nifong apologized even though it was too late. Where Jesse's and Al's apology. You won't get it because they are not the honest men they make the minority believe. If this was reversed and the black boys were arrested Al would of been here before the jail cell was locked spewing his hatred racist remarks as usual. If anyone should be fired for racist statement it is him as much as Imus was.

  • ladyblue Jun 18, 2007

    Aw Someone's little feelings has been hurt because they dish out the smart tongue remarks but are offended when it happens to them. Reminds me of the way Nifong acts. Yep sounds like they need to grow up some more. I believe Nifong is on the way to loosing everything he's worked for. The activist will never stand up to their mistakes because that's the way they are. I've never seen respect come from any of those two. They rush into a situation without all the facts, bully all the people involved in the situation, then they slide back out leaving everything a complete mess. After stirring up racial tension they crawl away and I wouldn't be surprised if they sit back and laugh at what they've done.

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