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As Lacrosse Case Ends, Case Against Nifong Goes On

Even though the sexual assault case against three Duke lacrosse players is over, Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong met with his own attorney to discuss his defense against ethics charges in the case.

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DURHAM, N.C. — As the sexual assault case against three Duke University lacrosse players ended Wednesday, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was meeting with his own attorney to discuss his own defense to ethics charges in the case.

The North Carolina State Bar has lodged two complaints against Nifong in connection with his handling of the Duke lacrosse case. If  he is found guilty of the charges against him, he could be disbarred.

In a complaint filed in December, the State Bar cited more than 100 examples of inflammatory public statements he made to the media shortly after the case broke in March 2006. In January, the State Bar alleged that he had withheld DNA evidence from defense attorneys—exculpatory evidence that could show a defendant is not guilty of a crime.

Nifong has denied the charges, saying in a written response that he didn't intentionally violate ethics rules or withhold evidence.

The Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the State Bar will hold a hearing Friday afternoon on Nifong's motion to dismiss the withholding evidence charge. He spent much of Wednesday at the Winston-Salem office of his attorney, David Freedman.

A full trial before the disciplinary panel on both charges is set for June 12. 

Because of the pending ethics complaints, Nifong recused himself from the Duke lacrosse case in January. The state Attorney General's Office appointed two special prosecutors to oversee the investigation.

The Attorney General's Office announced that kidnapping and sexual assault charges would be dismissed against Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and David Evans, the three Duke lacrosse players accused of attacking a stripper during a team party in March 2006.

Nifong dropped rape charges against the three in December after the woman told investigators she couldn't positively testify that she had been raped.

"He (Nifong) has complete confidence in the Attorney General's Office that whatever decision they make is the appropriate decision. This should have no effect on the State Bar proceedings," Freedman said.

With the charges against the players dismissed, Nifong could face lawsuits from the players and their families on slander and civil rights violations, local attorneys said.

Prosecutors have absolute immunity for actions taken in the course of their duties. But the immunity becomes more limited for actions taken outside their duties, which could include Nifong's statements to the media before any of the players was indicted.

"It sounds like the parents and the families are pretty interested in pursuing a civil lawsuit, and I would expect one to be forthcoming," said attorney Carlos Mahoney, who isn't connected with the case.

The players and their families also could sue the city of Durham if they could prove any negligence by police in the investigation, attorneys said. But they said they knew of no grounds for any possible suits against Duke.


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