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Lacrosse Case Likely to Play Role in Durham DA's Race

Posted February 1, 2008

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— Even with Mike Nifong out as prosecutor, the defunct Duke lacrosse case is likely to be a factor in the next Durham County district attorney's race.

Nifong's opponent in the 2006 race, Freda Black, announced her candidacy Friday, vowing to bring integrity back to the office and cautioning voters to beware candidates who worked for the former district attorney.

"With lawsuits pending and taxes likely to go up because of the transgressions of that previous administration, I don't know why anybody in Durham County would want to vote for someone who had ties with that administration," she said outside the Durham County Courthouse, surrounded by a group of supporters.

Black was assistant prosecutor in the district attorney's office for nearly 14 years before Nifong dismissed her in 2005.

"One case does not define the whole criminal justice system," Assistant District Attorney Tracey Cline said. She has said she also plans to run for district attorney.

"The governor sent Judge (Jim) Hardin here to determine if there were any problems in the DA's office. Judge Hardin determined we were doing a tremendous job," Cline added.

Another assistant prosecutor, Mitch Garrell, also plans to seek the post. He said Friday the race should focus on other issues

Black – best known for prosecuting novelist and former Durham mayoral candidate Michael Peterson in his high-profile murder case in 2003 – is the first candidate to formally announce her candidacy.

Filing opens Feb. 11. The Democratic primary is May 6.

In September, Gov. Mike Easley appointed Chief Assistant District Attorney David Saacks, a 15-year veteran of the office, to serve as interim district attorney until the 2008 election.

Saacks, who lives in Wake County, has said he does not intend to run for the position.

Nifong was disbarred last year for more than two dozen violations of the North Carolina State Bar's rules of professional conduct for his handling of the Duke University lacrosse case.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed the case last April, citing a lack of evidence, and declared the former Duke lacrosse players innocent of the charges they faced.

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