Local News

Pressure Builds on Nifong as Full DA Term Begins

Posted January 1, 2007 4:16 p.m. EST
Updated January 2, 2007 8:25 a.m. EST

— Mike Nifong was sworn in Tuesday for a four-year term as Durham's district attorney. The intense scrutiny he has received from the Duke University lacrosse case leave some wondering whether he will be able to finish the term.

When Gov. Mike Easley appointed Nifong district attorney in 2005 to replace Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin, Easley noted Nifong's solid commitment to the office and to the people of Durham. However, nearly two years later—in the midst of one of the most high-profile cases in Durham history—many question Nifong's judgment and his integrity.

"He's probably under more pressure now than ever before," North Carolina Central University law professor Irving Joyner said. "You have three of the best defense attorneys in the state shooting after him, and you have the state bar that's filed a complaint about his conduct."

An N.C. Central student told police she was beaten and raped by three Duke lacrosse players while performing as a stripper at a March 13 team party. Juniors Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty and 2006 graduate David Evans face kidnapping and sexual offense charges.

All three players have denied any wrongdoing, and defense attorneys have repeatedly hammered the prosecution's case, calling into question the accuser's identification of the players and the lack of DNA evidence of an assault.

Nifong last month dismissed rape charges against the three players, saying the woman's uncertainty about the alleged attack meant he couldn't prove meet the state standard to prove rape.

Last week, the State Bar filed a complaint against Nifong, saying his statements to the media early in the investigation constituted fraud, deceit or dishonesty.

In recent years, the State Bar itself has been criticized for handing out what many equate to slaps on the wrists for prosecutorial misconduct. Because of that, some believe the group could use Nifong as an example and disbar him.

They question whether Nifong will still be DA when his four-year term is up.

Joyner said he doesn't see it that way.

"The State Bar is not the place you make an example of someone. The State Bar is there to protect the public and protect the profession and the protect the professionals within the bar," he said, adding that he would be surprised if the group moves for disbarment.

Joyner said he doesn't see the lacrosse case as one that will ultimately define Nifong's career. Once the Duke case is dealt with, he said, Nifong will be judged on how he handles the everyday duties of his office.