Durham, N.C. — A federal judge has removed former Durham County prosecutor Mike Nifong from a civil lawsuit filed by three Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of rape.
The disgraced district attorney filed for bankruptcy two weeks ago, citing more than $180 million in liabilities. Almost all of that amount is the estimated damages from pending civil litigation.
U.S. District Court Judge James Beaty left open the possibility that Nifong could again become a defendant in the civil suit, saying in Monday's filing that could happen within 90 days of the end of his bankruptcy case.
Nifong won indictments against the three players after a stripper hired to perform at a March 2006 team party reported being raped, but the case unraveled in the face of the accuser's constantly changing story and a lack of evidence.
The state prosecutors who eventually took over the case dropped all charges and declared the players innocent victims of Nifong's "tragic rush to accuse." He was later disbarred for his handling of the case and spent a night in jail for lying to a judge.
Attorneys for players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans later filed their lawsuit against Nifong, the City of Durham, police investigators and others. The suit accuses them of conducting "one of the most chilling episodes of premeditated police, prosecutorial and scientific misconduct in modern American history."
Nifong's bankruptcy filing lists liabilities of $90 million – $30 million for each of the cleared players as potential damages in their lawsuit. The paperwork also said Nifong could potentially face $90 million in liabilities in a second lawsuit, $30 million each for three unindicted players who allege emotional distress in their suit. His bankruptcy court petition also lists about $300,000 in other debts.
Nifong will be back in court on Feb. 8 to answer questions from creditors in the bankruptcy case. That process could take as long as a year.