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State Bar Files Ethics Complaint Against Mike Nifong

Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong has been accused of ethical misconduct in his handling of the Duke lacrosse case by the North Carolina State Bar. (Inside: View Complaint)

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina State Bar has filed an ethics complaint against Duke lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong.

The 17-page complaint accuses him of breaking four rules of professional conduct when speaking to reporters about the high-profile case. The complaint lists more than 100 examples of public statements Nifong made to the media, including WRAL, since March.

Among the rules, the bar complaint says Nifong violated is a prohibition on making "comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused."

Another of the rules Nifong was charged with breaking forbids "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." The bar said that when DNA testing failed to find any evidence that any lacrosse player raped the accuser, Nifong told a reporter the players might have used a condom.

According to the bar, Nifong knew that assertion was misleading, because he had received a report from an emergency room nurse in which the accuser said her attackers did not use a condom.

Nifong has come under mounting scrutiny for the way he has handled the investigation, in which a 28-year-old exotic dancer initially claimed she was raped at an off-campus lacrosse party in March.

Three lacrosse players—David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann—were later indicted on charges of first-degree rape, first-degree sexual offense and first-degree kidnapping.

In a statement, the bar said it opened a case against Nifong on March 30, a little more than two weeks after the party, and it found on Oct. 19 after an investigation that there was reasonable cause to refer the case to the bar's Disciplinary Commission for trial.

A series of public hearings will be held before the Disciplinary Commission that eventually will lead to the public trial sometime next year. If it's determined that Nifong violated any ethical code of conduct, the penalties could range from a reprimand to disbarment.

Nifong had no comment when WRAL contacted him at his home Thursday evening. No defense attorneys were immediately available for comment.

Duke University did release a statement Thursday evening reiterating President Richard Brodhead's call last week that Nifong turn the case over to an independent investigator.

The statement read: "This afternoon’s announcement from the North Carolina State Bar makes all the more appropriate, as President Brodhead said last week, that 'The district attorney should now put this case in the hands of an independent party, who can restore confidence in the fairness of the process.'"

Last Friday, Nifong dropped the rape charges against the three athletes after the accuser, a North Carolina Central University student, told Nifong's investigator that she couldn't testify "with certainty" that she was raped, according to dismissal motions.

All three former lacrosse players still face the two other remaining charges.

Case Might Be Stronger, Law Professor Says

Some experts have said that Nifong's dismissal of the rape charges could actually make the prosecution's case stronger.

"Now, they don't have to establish that there was penetration committed against the accuser," said N.C. Central University law professor Irving Joyner.

"In addition to that, now they don't have to deal with the DNA or the lack of DNA evidence," Joyner added. "And with the rape shield statute, it's unlikely that information will even come before the jury to consider."

Family members of the players and other attorneys not connected to the case have said the remaining charges should be dropped because Nifong's action shows he does not have enough evidence to proceed.

"What he's tried to do is take out the charge that he couldn't prove," said Duke University law professor James Coleman. "I think he's become increasingly desperate to try to turn this into a case."


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