Local News

Law Expert: Cleared Player's Testimony Devastating for Nifong

Posted June 16, 2007 8:55 a.m. EDT
Updated June 16, 2007 10:49 a.m. EDT

— A Duke University law professor said Friday that Reade Seligmann's testimony at Mike Nifong's North Carolina State Bar ethics trial was devastating to the district attorney's defense.

"Seligmann sort of let the public see what happens when a prosecutor like this abuses his powers," James Coleman said.

Nifong's civil hearing continues Saturday with the State Bar's three-member Disciplinary Hearing Commission set to decide whether Nifong violated ethics rules in connection with his handling of the Duke lacrosse case.

The State Bar alleges the district attorney made false representations to the court, withheld DNA evidence from defense attorneys representing the three indicted lacrosse players -- Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans -- and violated professional rules of conduct by making misleading and inflammatory comments about the defendants.

If the panel finds that Nifong violated the State Bar's rules of professional conduct, a sentencing phase will begin immediately.

"I think these are basically self-inflicted wounds and he's ruined his career," Coleman said. "And what's ironic about that is that he had a reputation. People thought he had integrity before this. And he's destroyed all of that."

Seligmann -- the 21-year-old sophomore from Essex Fells, N.J., who Nifong had indicted last spring on charges of first-degree rape, kidnapping and sexual assault -- testified about how he was sure DNA evidence would clear him and his 45 other teammates.

He also talked about how Nifong's statements early on in the investigation forced him to change his daily routine before he had been indicted and about a first court appearance in which someone threatened his life.

Seligmann became emotional and tears and sobs filled the courtroom, however, when he started talking about the day he learned he would be indicted and about having to tell his mother that an exotic dancer hired to perform at a lacrosse team party had picked him as one of her attackers.

"I fell to the floor and said, 'My life was over," Seligmann said.

Nifong said later in the day he was moved by Seligmann's testimony and called him "a very impressive young man."

Moments later, mixing expressions of remorse and admissions of guilt with proclamations of ignorance, Nifong tearfully named each cleared player by named, apologized and then said he would resign as district attorney.

"I will go to my grave being associated with this case. And that's OK," Nifong said. "Whatever mistakes I made in this case were my mistakes. But they're not all the ones that the bar says I made, but they are my mistakes."

For months, critics have called for Nifong to resign. But for months, Nifong, as well as his attorneys, has said he had no plans to do so.

The announcement came as a shock to many, including the lawyers and families of the cleared players. They seemed unfazed by the announcement.

"It's like one of the mother's said today after Mr. Nifong's pretend tears and apology -- that 15 minutes of self-absorbed crying doesn't make up for 15 months of trying to incarcerate their innocent children," Evans former defense attorney, Joseph Cheshire said.

Just what affect Nifong's resignation will have on the disciplinary committee's decision remains unknown.

Cheshire criticized the decision, calling it a "cynical ploy to save his law license."

But some legal observers said they doubt his intention to resign will have any affect on the disciplinary commission's decision.

"I think it was ending his term as a DA on his terms," criminal defense attorney and former Wake County Assistant District Attorney Hart Miles said.