Local News

Lawsuit against Nifong can proceed, judge rules

Posted May 27, 2008 6:06 p.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2008 9:26 p.m. EDT

— Former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong's claim that he's bankrupt can't stop a civil rights lawsuit that three former Duke University lacrosse players filed against him, a U.S. bankruptcy judge's ruling Tuesday.

Listing a debt of more than $180 million that included possible losses to the players from the suit, Nifong filed for bankruptcy in January. He did it on the same day he was to submit a response to a civil complaint filed by David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

Last year, they were cleared of all charges stemming from an exotic dancer's claims she was raped at a party in March 2006. Special prosecutors found no evidence to proceed with the case.

In the lawsuit they filed in October, the trio alleged the city of Durham, Nifong and others conspired to keep a weak case alive as he faced election in the Democratic primary for district attorney.

Nifong's bankruptcy filing sought to protect him from the civil suit by making the players' claims part of the bankruptcy case instead. At the time, Nifong listed his house, car and personal belongings as being worth $243,898.

In January, U.S. District Judge James Beaty took Nifong out of the players' case until the bankruptcy case was decided, though he left open the possibility that Nifong could again become a defendant in the civil suit.

Tuesday's decision by Bankruptcy Judge William L. Stocks turned the tables, putting the entire bankruptcy case on hold and tossing the players' claims against Nifong back to the district court to decide.

In February, a federal court administrator recommended the disbarred prosecutor not be granted bankruptcy protection, saying he makes too much money. Tuesday's decision did not address that point.