Local News

Civil Suit Might Be First of Many in Duke Lacrosse Case

Posted January 5, 2007 10:32 p.m. EST
Updated January 5, 2007 11:19 p.m. EST

— The first civil lawsuit stemming from the Duke lacrosse criminal case is on the books, and one legal observer said more could be on the way.

Nine months after a woman leveled rape allegations against three players, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong dropped the charges two weeks ago. Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligman and Dave Evans still face sexual offense and kidnapping charges.

As the criminal case against the players moves forward, however, Duke University could find itself bracing for its own legal battles. The school's actions in the weeks following the accusations could have lasting legal implications.

On Thursday, former Duke Lacrosse player Kyle Dowd filed the first civil suit in connection with the scandal. He claims a visiting instructor flunked him in a course because he was a lacrosse player, and he sued her and the university. he is seeking money damages and a grade of "passing" for the course. The university already had changed his grade from an F to a D.

Dowd was never implicated in the investigation.

“I didn't want to see Duke turn their back on other students like they turned their back on me and my fellow teammates,” Dowd said.
The Durham community demonstrated its outrage when an exotic dancer claimed she was raped by three men at an off-campus house last March, demanding that the university take action against the players. Nifong added his voice to the public outcry.

“It was an elected official making those statements,” said defense attorney Hart Miles, who is unconnected to the Duke case.

In the weeks after the allegations, Duke abruptly canceled the lacrosse season, suspended the players and fired Coach Mike Pressler. Miles said those decisions indicate the university buckled under public pressure and based its actions on the district attorney's comments in the news.

“They were relying on (Nifong's) statements as (to) what happened at the very beginning of the case, and Duke reacted to that,” Miles said.

While Duke isn't commenting on the suit, Miles said it could be the first of many civil suits against the university. If that happens, he said, university officials could claim they didn't have all the facts in the beginning.

“Even though this (criminal) case may go away either by trial or dismissal, it's going to linger in the community and the legal system for a while,” Miles said.

The Duke lacrosse criminal case returns to court on Feb. 5. According to Nifong, the accuser is scheduled to attend the hearing.