Local News

Judge Suspends Resigned Nifong From DA's Office

Posted June 18, 2007 11:57 a.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2007 11:37 a.m. EDT

— Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said Monday night that he had signed an order removing District Attorney Mike Nifong from office, effective Tuesday morning, and named a Wake County attorney to handle a case against Nifong.

The action followed Nifong indicating earlier Monday that he would resign effective next month in the wake of a State Bar decision Saturday to strip him of his law license.

Hudson named Wake County attorney Robert Zaytoun to handle the case against Nifong.

In February, Durham resident Elizabeth Brewer had filed a civil complaint asking Hudson to remove Nifong under a section of state law. She claimed Nifong had exhibited willful misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the office into disrepute.

Hudson put off action on Brewer's motion then pending the outcome of the Bar action against Nifong, and he did the same against in April when she renewed her request.

Earlier in the day, Nifong had submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Mike Easley, saying that he would leave office July 13. Nifong also notified Hudson of his decision to leave office next month.

"It is my fervent hope that this action will spare this community the further anguish a removal hearing would entail and will allow the healing process to move forward," Nifong wrote to Hudson.

Hudson initially said he would have preferred that Nifong step down immediately. Criminal defendants and defense lawyers might challenge the district attorney's authority over the next month, creating potential problems, he said.

"There is some concern that a resignation effective at a later date could cause complications as far as legal proceedings go," Hudson said earlier Monday.

Easley said at a Monday afternoon news conference that he hadn't received Nifong's letter. He said he would act on it immediately once he gets it, but he didn't have a list of potential replacements.

A bill pending in the state House would allow the governor to immediately remove a district attorney or judge who has been disbarred from office. Easley, a former district attorney himself, said he supports the bill and thinks Nifong should have resigned immediately.

"I think he should have left and not gone back, except to clean out the office," he said. "I don't think he ought to be in the district attorney's office, having been disbarred.

"As a prosecutor ... constitutionally, you're given an awful lot of power. You can destroy a reputation within moments."

The North Carolina State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Commission stripped Nifong, a career prosecutor, of his ability to practice law on Saturday. But under State Bar rules, the disbarment isn't effective for 30 days.

Nifong announced his intention Friday during the disciplinary hearing into his handling of the Duke University lacrosse team sexual assault case.

The State Bar charged Nifong with making misleading and inflammatory comments about the lacrosse athletes, lying to both the court and State Bar investigators and withholding critical DNA test results from the players' defense attorneys.

The three-member disciplinary commission unanimously agreed with the Bar on 27 of 32 charges, including the most serious allegations -- that Nifong's actions involved "dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation."

During the five-day ethics trial, Nifong acknowledged he knew there was no DNA evidence connecting lacrosse players Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty to the 28-year-old woman who accused them of attacking her when he indicted them on charges of rape, sexual offense and kidnapping a year ago. Nifong later charged player David Evans with the same crimes.