Local News

Nifong Foe Questions Judge's Delay

Posted February 12, 2007 12:27 p.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2007 6:44 p.m. EST

— A Durham resident who last week filed court papers seeking the removal of Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong from office on Monday questioned a judge's decision to delay action on the issue.

Elizabeth Brewer filed a civil complaint against Nifong on Friday, alleging willful misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the office into disrepute. The charges stem from his handling of the investigation of rape allegations against members of the Duke University lacrosse team.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said the civil complaint mirrors ethics charges the North Carolina State Bar has filed against Nifong, and he issued an order Monday that would defer Brewer's complaint until after the State Bar hearing in the case is completed.

"Due process of law requires that the district attorney be allowed to defend himself before one tribunal at a time regarding the allegations," Hudson wrote in the ruling.

But Betty Tenn Lawrence, an Asheville lawyer representing Brewer, on Monday challenged Hudson's authority to postpone the removal proceeding. State law dictates that the judge act on a civil complaint within 30 days, Lawrence wrote in a letter to Hudson.

Hudson told WRAL that his decision to delay action on the complaint constitutes acting on it.

Brewer and her attorney could file a motion asking the state Court of Appeals to force Hudson to take some other action, but there was no word Monday on whether they planned to do so.

Reade Seligmann, 20, Collin Finnerty, 20, and David Evans, 23, have been indicted last spring on charges of first-degree sexual assault and first-degree kidnapping. A 28-year-old North Carolina Central University student told police she was assaulted by three lacrosse players while performing as a stripper at a March 13 team party at an off-campus house.

Nifong dropped rape charges against the three men in December after the accuser wavered in her account of key details in the case. He later asked to be removed from the case and had the state Attorney General's Office to appoint prosecutors to handle the case.

The State Bar has filed an ethics complaint against Nifong, alleging he withheld exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys representing the lacrosse players, misrepresenting the truth to the judge in the case and violated professional conduct rules by making misleading and inflammatory comments about the defendants.

Nifong's response to the complaint is due Feb. 23.