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Durham's Acting DA: Office's Image Is Biggest Hurdle

Posted August 14, 2007

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— The public automatically associates Mike Nifong and his handling of the Duke lacrosse case with the district attorney's office – and that perception is the biggest issue with the office, Durham's interim head prosecutor said Tuesday.

"We've had to deal with it in a couple of cases when we were selecting juries," former Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin said. "I mean, it's on everyone's mind. It still is, to some degree."

But having reviewed policies and cases in which the toppled prosecutor was involved, Hardin said he has been pleased with what he has seen in the two months since Gov. Mike Easley appointed him to "take stock of the office, the personnel and its practices."

That decision came one day after Nifong was suspended from office following the North Carolina State Bar's disciplinary panel's decision to disbar him for violating ethics rules in his handling of the rape, sexual assault and kidnapping case against former Duke lacrosse players David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

"I believe we're on the right side of the trend," Hardin said, admitting that changing the public's perception hasn't been easy.

For example, he said he postponed a plea deal in a murder case after the victim's family raised concerns and mentioned Nifong's name in a letter.

"It did cause me to reflect on the case, step back and make sure we're doing things right," Hardin said.

But Durham defense attorney Bill Thomas said getting Nifong out of office has relieved a lot of concerns for attorneys.

"We have no concerns about the conduct of the office," he said. "We all wonder who the next DA is going to be."

Easley is now searching for Nifong's permanent replacement to serve out the term, which ends in 2008.

The Office of the Governor said Tuesday that Easley has been talking with candidates but said there is no definite timeframe on filling the position.

A 20-year veteran of the Durham District Attorney's Office, Hardin served 11 of those years as district attorney, gaining notoriety in 2003 for successfully prosecuting the high-profile murder trial of former Durham mayoral candidate and novelist Michael Peterson.

In April 2005, Easley appointed Hardin to a Superior Court judgeship. It was then that Hardin suggested Nifong, based on his experience and reputation, as a candidate for the position.

"Looking at it from that perspective, it was the right thing," Hardin said. "But, if I had to do it over again, I might've done things differently."

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  • elcid89 Aug 15, 2007

    "You have a point on Nifong's retirement though. The civil suit(s) won't be able to claim it through normal channels. There is a way to do it, but it involves having the state strip it, (I believe) and that may never happen. There was some discussion about it right before the disbarrment proceedings, but I'm not sure where that issue is now."

    He's vested. The sole avenue open would be a possible seizure of the employer contributed portions of his pension, and that requires a monstrous burden of proof related to pervasive malfeasance. Even in that scenario, the portions he contributed, and any gains therefrom, are sacrosanct.

    401k's are sacrosanct on face, as are primary homes, automobiles, etc. Bottom line, if they win a judgment, it's up to them to collect it, and the primary avenue for doing that is the garnishment of wages. In getting him disbarred, they removed his wage earning ability, so they'll likely collect very little.

  • Nancy Aug 15, 2007

    I find it amusing to read that they were not poor, they could afford the $400,000 bail, the expensive lawyers etc.

    So I guess some people choose to believe that each family spending about $80K a month during that year have that hanging around as pocket change? Not true, considering they have siblings as well.

    I'm just glad they had access and friends to help them defend these kids and expose the abuse within the system.

    I feel sorry for those who have to rely on public defenders in such a crooked system, they're the ones who don't have a prayer at true justice.

    So while they gathered the money to defend themselves against a lying witness, a corrupt DA and poor police work, that money exposed the system for all to see in painful detail.

  • FragmentFour Aug 15, 2007

    elcid89--"Um, those are their parents jobs. It's relevant because he was trying to portray these parents as being poor people who had to scrape and beg to come up with the money for a defense. I was pointing out that his characterization of them was not accurate."

    Not sure who the "he" is you're refering to, Elcid89, but I never claimed that the families were destitute - before or after the legal bills. Just tried to correct your statement that the families did not go into debt.

    You have a point on Nifong's retirement though. The civil suit(s) won't be able to claim it through normal channels. There is a way to do it, but it involves having the state strip it, (I believe) and that may never happen. There was some discussion about it right before the disbarrment proceedings, but I'm not sure where that issue is now.

  • elcid89 Aug 15, 2007

    "You might want to check into the average salary of a managing director on Wall Street. Of course poor people everywhere live in 1.3 million dollar houses as well. Let's face it. They aren't exactly in the poorhouse."

    In fact, let's do that. Average salary band for a managing director on Wall Street? from 400K a year to 20 million a year. The most mediocre managing director they surveyed makes 400 grand a year, and this guy is apparently towards the top of his field judging from where he's worked and the positions he's held. You can bet he isn't struggling along at the bottom of that range.

    Moving along. A mortgage on 1.3 million under the worst terms available (30% of income devoted) comes out to about 8650 a month in mortgage payments. at 30%, that comes to a minimum yearly income of $345,996, and that's the least they could make and qualify.

    So, as you can see, these are not what one would consider to be poor people.

  • elcid89 Aug 15, 2007

    "This is obviously a problem for some, who see this as an unfortunate exposure of how liberals have tried to politically divide people based on race and class. Of course these boys were not rich as some have tried to suggest."

    You might want to check into the average salary of a managing director on Wall Street. Of course poor people everywhere live in 1.3 million dollar houses as well. Let's face it. They aren't exactly in the poorhouse.

  • elcid89 Aug 15, 2007

    "And, Duke University has vast resources. So a couple of them git good jobs. Deal with the issue. THESE BOYS DID NOT COME FROM A RICH BACKGROUND."

    Um, those are their parents jobs. It's relevant because he was trying to portray these parents as being poor people who had to scrape and beg to come up with the money for a defense. I was pointing out that his characterization of them was not accurate.

  • rayzer Aug 15, 2007

    "
    Would that be the Kevin Finnerty who's a managing partner at a Wall Street investment company or the Phillip Seligmann who's an institutional investor and lives in a house valued at $1.3 million? These are not poor people, regardless of what you may believe.

    I'm not debating that their kids were treated poorly, but don't martyr them in the process. I can tell you point blank that Seligmann's lawyer bills at 600 an hour."

    This proves nothing with respect to the wealth of their family. Yes they had to have expensive lawyers. That is why they went into debt to pay them.

    And, Duke University has vast resources. So a couple of them git good jobs. Deal with the issue. THESE BOYS DID NOT COME FROM A RICH BACKGROUND.

  • rayzer Aug 15, 2007

    The three boys committed no crime, unlike the DA who attempted to exploit them for political gain.

    This is obviously a problem for some, who see this as an unfortunate exposure of how liberals have tried to politically divide people based on race and class. Of course these boys were not rich as some have tried to suggest.

  • elcid89 Aug 15, 2007

    "The one possible upside of it now is that Nifong's retirement, most of his past salary, and all HE can raise by one means or another will go to reimburse them."

    You are aware that retirement benefits are untouchable in a civil judgment, correct?

  • elcid89 Aug 15, 2007

    "Yes, they did, Elcid89. They borrowed from every friend and relative they had, mortgaged homes, cashed in investments. Yeah, they went into debt."

    Would that be the Kevin Finnerty who's a managing partner at a Wall Street investment company or the Phillip Seligmann who's an institutional investor and lives in a house valued at $1.3 million? These are not poor people, regardless of what you may believe.

    I'm not debating that their kids were treated poorly, but don't martyr them in the process. I can tell you point blank that Seligmann's lawyer bills at 600 an hour.

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