Local News

Lacrosse Judge Could Also Discipline Nifong

Posted June 6, 2007 7:06 p.m. EDT
Updated June 7, 2007 10:01 a.m. EDT

— The sole judge presiding over the Duke lacrosse case could discipline embattled Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong for his actions while handling the investigation.

In a court document filed Tuesday, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III expressed concerns about a Dec. 15 hearing during which a DNA expert testified that he and Nifong withheld test results from the defense.

The memorandum outlines Smith's authority, stating that he has the right to discipline any lawyer for actions in his court. Smith could do anything from reprimanding Nifong to sentencing him to jail time for contempt of court.

Nifong will go on trial next week before the North Carolina State Bar's three-member disciplinary committee for a number of alleged ethics violations, including withholding exculpatory evidence and making comments to the media that were prejudicial to the defendants.

Under North Carolina law, the North Carolina State Bar and trial court judges each have power to discipline lawyers for misconduct. Nifong faces the prospect of punishment from both.

In April, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed kidnapping and sexual assault charges against the three former Duke lacrosse players – Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans – stating their accuser, Crystal Mangum, was not credible.

Nifong had recused himself from the case in January, less than a month after he dropped rape charges against the defendants, saying the ethics complaints presented a conflict of interest for him.

Since then, a number of different parties – including federal lawmakers, Durham residents and the defendants Nifong sought to prosecute – have called for him to resign or to be removed from office.

Earlier this year, Durham resident and Nifong political opponent Elizabeth Brewer filed two civil complaints calling for Nifong to be removed.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, however, delayed acting on the complaints until the ethics case is resolved, saying the complaints mirrored the ethics charges.

Hudson told WRAL on Tuesday, though, that he is prepared to conduct a summary hearing right after the State Bar trial, meaning that issues decided in the State Bar trial won't need to be redecided.

The residing Superior Court judge can remove a district attorney from office if there's evidence he brought the office in to disrepute, among other things.