Local News

State Bar Says Nifong Skirted System in Handling of Duke Lacrosse Case

Posted March 19, 2007 5:35 p.m. EDT
Updated March 20, 2007 8:40 a.m. EDT

A North Carolina State Bar response to Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong's request for dismissal of some of the charges against him suggests the agency believes that Nifong has attempted to skirt the system in his handling of the Duke lacrosse case.

In a legal brief filed Monday, the bar suggests Nifong wants the organization to interpret the law according to his view of it. It also said it doesn't buy Nifong's explanation for withholding DNA evidence and claimed he's twisting words to make his argument fit.

The charges and the ensuing debate stems from indictments won against three Duke University lacrosse players last year following a party at which a woman claimed she was raped.

In papers filed last week, attorneys for Nifong added to their argument that the players' attorneys received a report and its underlying data on DNA testing well before any trial. The report was conducted as part of the assault investigation.

"That Nifong disclosed both the report and the underlying data later than the Duke defendants would have preferred does not turn Nifong's disclosure, or failure to make what the defendants would consider timely disclosure, into a constitutional violation," they wrote.

However, the bar said that the nearly 2,000 pages of test results and examinations given to the defense wasn’t a report and was no more than raw data that defense attorneys were left to decipher with the help of hired experts. The brief said that to remain within ethical boundaries, Nifong should have included a summary of the DNA analysis.

The state bar is the agency that regulates and disciplines attorneys in the state.

Nifong turned the case over to state prosecutors in January after the bar charged him with ethics violations. He had already dropped rape charges after the 28-year-old accuser changed a key detail of her account of the March 13, 2006, party where she was hired to perform as a stripper.

The three players still face charges of sexual offense and kidnapping. They have strongly maintained their innocence.

The latest filing from Nifong's attorneys did not address bar allegations that in numerous interviews he granted in the early days of the investigation, he made comments that had a "a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused."

His attorneys have previously said those interviews were aimed at reassuring the community and seeking help from the public in obtaining information.

University of North Carolina law professor Joe Kennedy described the bar's tone in the most-recent documents as somewhat incredulous. He pointed to the bar's following point: "Nifong is arguing that he can make false statements to a court…then use his misrepresentations to claim he committed no violation."

A date has not been set yet to argue these motions. However, the hearing is likely to happen in the near future. Nifong's hearing before the bar has been tentatively set for June.