Local News

Lawmaker Wants State Power to Check on District Attorneys

Posted December 26, 2006 11:55 p.m. EST
Updated December 27, 2006 6:40 a.m. EST

— Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong’s decisions in the Duke lacrosse case have prompted a state representative from Kinston to call for the state attorney general to be given authority to investigate how DAs handle cases.

State Rep. Stephen LaRoque, a Republican who has been representing Greene, Lenoir and Wayne counties, said Tuesday that he thinks the state attorney general needs to be given authority to investigate actions by the state’s 39 district attorneys. LaRoque appeared Tuesday night on Fox TV’s legal affairs show with Greta Van Susteren to push his argument.

LaRoque says the attorney general's office, not the state bar, should be the one to investigate misconduct charges against a district attorney. Currently, district attorneys can ask the state for help from the attorney general, but the attorney general cannot enter a case on his own. LaRoque, who was not reelected last month, said he plans to lobby for his proposal after he leaves office when the new Legislature convenes.

"I'm not focusing this on when there's a mistake or something slips through the cracks," LaRoque said. "This for intentional misconduct on the part of the prosecutor."

LaRoque isn't the first to ask for an outside investigation of the case that began in March when a woman hired as an exotic dancer for a lacrosse team party near the Duke campus told police she had been gang-raped.

U.S. Rep Walter Jones has written twice to U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales asking for a federal investigation to determine of the rights of three indicted lacrosse players—Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann—were violated.

Nifong dropped rape charges against the trio on Friday. They still face charges of sexual assault and kidnapping.

Margaret Dorer, director of the state Conference of District Attorneys, said she does not support LaRoque's proposal.

"I think something else would probably be another layer of bureaucracy," Dorer said.

Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor, said, “Well I think if you're going to give that authority, the attorney general's office is the place to do it.”

Shanahan and Dorer agreed that it is too soon to decide if Nifong's prosecution should be investigated.

While there are several questions to ask about Nifong's decisions in the case, any investigation should come after the case is through, Shanahan said.

“I think it's important we let him do his job and judge him after the fact," the former prosecutor said.

Dorer cautioned against making judgments while the case is still in the legal process.

"I would caution everyone to wait until this case is heard in court because that's the appropriate place for it to be heard, not in the media," she said. "They've not seen the DA's file. The only part they've seen is coming from the defense."