Local News

Judge Will Stay Latest Complaint Against Nifong

Posted February 9, 2007 5:08 p.m. EST
Updated February 9, 2007 11:06 p.m. EST

— A judge said early Friday evening he will issue an order on Monday to stay any action on a Durham resident's attempt to remove former Duke lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong from office.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said the civil complaint filed Friday by Elizabeth Brewer basically mirrors ethics charges the North Carolina State Bar filed against the Durham County district attorney within the past two months.

Citing provisions in North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 7A-66 on the removal of district attorneys, Brewer charges Nifong with willful misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the office into disrepute.

Last year, Brewer organized a political action committee, "Recall Nifong -- Vote Cheek," to elect Durham County Commissioner Lewis Cheek as district attorney, even though he had decided he was not running for the office.

"This was filed by a woman who tried to defeat me through the political process," Nifong told WRAL's Julia Lewis early Friday evening after he had a chance to review the complaint. "Since that wasn't successful, she obviously tried to pursue this through this particular remedy."

The complaint is significant, former federal prosecutor Dan Boyce said, and raises questions not only about Nifong's ability to serve as district attorney, but also his right to practice law.

"I think he's got to consider whether, in the interest of justice and in fairness to the people of Durham County, whether it's time to resign," Boyce said. "There's too much attention being focused on him and not enough attention being focused on the (Duke lacrosse) case itself."

Nifong also said Friday he is looking forward to defending himself against the State Bar's ethics charges and that he is working with his attorneys on a response, which is due Feb. 23.

"I wish everyone would withhold judgment until they hear the evidence, as well as my response," he told WRAL, adding that there is more to the Duke lacrosse case than what the media has reported.

Last month, the State Bar amended the ethics complaint it filed against Nifong in December, alleging he withheld exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys representing the Duke lacrosse players and misrepresenting the truth to the judge in the case.

December's complaint had accused Nifong of violating professional conduct rules by making misleading and inflammatory comments about the athletes under suspicion.

The lacrosse players, Reade Seligmann, 20, Collin Finnerty, 20, and David Evans, 23, were indicted last spring on charges of first-degree rape, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree kidnapping after an exotic dancer told police she was raped at an off-campus lacrosse party.

In December, however, Nifong dropped rape charges against the three men after the accuser wavered in her account of key details in the case.

In January, Nifong asked for a special prosecutor in the case, and the state attorney general’s office is now handling it.

Nifong said Friday his office is moving forward with other cases as the ethics charges tied to the Duke case are pending.

Nifong said there were 2,692 cases pending in Durham's Superior Court when he was appointed interim district attorney in April 2005. That figure was down to 2,134 cases as of January, a reduction of nearly 21 percent, he said.

"I would point out that our office is operating very efficiently ... so it doesn't appear that anything alleged in here has affected our ability to do our job well," Nifong told The Associated Press.

Only one district attorney North Carolina has been removed from office with Statute 7A-66. In 1995, District Attorney Jerry Spivey was removed from office in New Hanover and Pender counties because of a racial slur he allegedly made at a bar in Wrightsville Beach.