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Durham Leaders Meet With Attorney About Lawsuit Threat

Posted September 6, 2007
Updated September 7, 2007

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— Durham City Council members want to talk further with the city's lawyers before deciding how to respond to a possible federal civil rights lawsuit from three former Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape and sexual assault.

In a closed session Thursday, city attorney Henry Blinder briefed the council for more than two hours about his meeting on Wednesday with attorneys representing for David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

The players argue that their civil rights were violated in the yearlong investigation, in which they were indicted, then later declared innocent and all charges were dropped.
Council members must also decide whether to continue with an independent panel examining the Durham Police Department's handling of the case. The possibility of a lawsuit has stalled the panel's probe because the city's insurance company is concerned about how any findings could affect a lawsuit.

The council agreed to not comment on the matter, but City Councilman Howard Clement said before Thursday's meeting that the panel should continue its work.

"I hope that someday, somehow we can resume that effort, because we want to find out where the truth is," he said.

"There were mistakes made in this case, and there needs to be accountability, and the city needs to accept that accountability," City Councilman Thomas Stith III said.

Mayor Bill Bell and at least three City Council members called in May for the special investigation into the police department's handling of the case. An internal department report found no wrongdoing on investigators' part.

It also concluded that the case was hampered, in part, because of then-District Attorney Mike Nifong's strained relationship with defense attorneys and that if it had been better, the case could have been resolved much more quickly.

But Bell said the report lacked focus and left questions about the investigation unanswered.

Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann have retained high-profile civil attorneys, including New York attorneys Barry Scheck and Brendan Sullivan Jr.

Scheck represented O.J. Simpson in his highly publicized 1995 murder trial, and Sullivan represented Lt. Col. Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.

Family members of the three exonerated men have also said little about potential civil litigation.

"We do have civil counsel. They are also excellent," Finnerty's father, Kevin Finnerty, said Wednesday. "We are following their lead."

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  • Nancy Sep 7, 2007

    "Have you stopped to think that this isn't punishing the right people? This is punishing the tax payers. The money won't be taken from the salaries of those that perpetuated this fraud, it will be taken from the inocent tax payers."

    The innocent taxpayers put him in office, indeed, even those appointed to positions involved were done by elected members of Durham government.

    Now, if you are violated, do you just roll over and say, I won't do anything about the wrongs and the exhorbitant cost financially and emotionally because, well, gee, the taxpayers will be paying for someone else's mistakes?

    I don't think so.

  • Nancy Sep 7, 2007

    "Nifong stopped acting in the capacity of DA and became an investigator. He has been convicted of contempt. He, and those working with and for him may be liable individually or collectively. Or, the city might just say "So sue us" and see what happens. Based on what we know so far, they are likely to settle, and settle large."

    Yes, Nifong was chief investigator, the DPD was told by their supervisors to go through Nifong on everything. Although Gottlieb sure was creative in his case summary (not based on contemporaneous notes since he didn't take any!) written 4 months after the indictments!

    So his immunity is pretty much in the toilet as far as being just the DA - he took over, DPD let him.

  • AM is Back to Being Immaculate Sep 7, 2007

    Have you stopped to think that this isn't punishing the right people? This is punishing the tax payers. The money won't be taken from the salaries of those that perpetuated this fraud, it will be taken from the inocent tax payers.

  • Heatherbrook Sep 7, 2007

    Innocent will continue to pay. Sad that the three families and friends suffered so much emotional pain. Will making all the innocent folks in Durham and North Carolina pay finanically correct anything? Don't think any one will feel better until the one who started this mess is punished.

  • harris6j Sep 7, 2007

    In time,Crystal Mangum will get what is coming to her.... It doesn't make any sense to me either than she is free, knowing what she did, but then again, she is not free because she is in hiding and her life is messed up. Last time I heard, her mother hired a civil attorney and was interested in doing a civil suit. That's a joke.And she also wants to wirte a book to tell her side of the story. Please...The people that needs to sue Crystal Mangum is the 3 men and the lives she tried to ruin. I am glad she didn't succeed and the only lives she ruined in the end are her children.

  • moi_oc Sep 7, 2007

    There are varying opinions about the liability of the bad actors in this case. Nifong stopped acting in the capacity of DA and became an investigator. He has been convicted of contempt. He, and those working with and for him may be liable individually or collectively. Or, the city might just say "So sue us" and see what happens. Based on what we know so far, they are likely to settle, and settle large.

  • moi_oc Sep 7, 2007

    Well put Nancy - Durham does not have coverage equal to the amount of rampant stupidity and criminality in the governing class.

  • dougalu Sep 7, 2007

    Durham City and County and the State of NC will have to pay $6 million a year for 5 years...how much will the NAACP have to pay?

  • haggis basher Sep 7, 2007

    " Why is she the only one who has not had to "pay" for any of this.? "
    Well she is now known nationwide as a stupid liar, drunk, stripper and of very dubious virtue (to put it politely). Should she have been charged with a crime? probably but it is important that real victims are not scared off from going to the Police when a crime has been committed. Thats the real crime on her part, how many victims will not be beleived because of her lies?

  • cjump Sep 7, 2007

    $30 million is not nearly enough. Maybe $30 million each.

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