Local News

Nifong Served With Suspension Order

Posted June 19, 2007 11:01 a.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2007 6:36 p.m. EDT

— One day after he announced he would resign next month, Mike Nifong was served with a judge's order that suspends him from carrying out any duties of the district attorney.

Durham County Sheriff Worth Hill went to Nifong's house with a deputy to serve the order Tuesday morning.

"We took his keys and his badge that gave him access to the building," Hill told The Associated Press. "We'll make arrangements to help him get his personal belongings later."

Acting on a civil complaint filed earlier this year by Durham resident Elizabeth Brewer, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson filed the order, which removes the embattled prosecutor from office until his resignation becomes effective July 13.

Hudson initially agreed to allow Nifong to work until then, but made the decision Monday evening, concerned that criminal defendants and defense lawyers might challenge the district attorney's authority and therefore, creating potential problems.

"There is probably cause to believe that the district attorney has engaged in willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, which brings the office into disrepute," Hudson wrote in the order.

A hearing on Brewer's request must be held within 30 days unless Nifong resigns before then.

Hudson appointed Robert Zaytoun, a private attorney in Wake County, as special prosecutor to present evidence against Nifong should the hearing take place.

Nifong's legal assistant, Candy Clark, said Tuesday  that the one case Nifong was currently handling -- a 2005 quadruple homicide -- was being reassigned to an assistant district attorney in the office. That case is scheduled for a case management hearing on Aug. 6.

A disciplinary committee of the North Carolina State Bar on Saturday disbarred Nifong for the way he handled the prosecution of three former Duke University lacrosse players on charges of rape, sexual assault and kidnapping.

Citing a lack of evidence in the case, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed the charges in April and declared the defendants innocent.

The State Bar alleged Nifong lied to the court, made inflammatory statements about the players and their teammates and withheld critical DNA evidence from defense attorneys.

The state House of Representatives unanimously approved Tuesday afternoon a bill that would allow the governor to remove any judge or district attorney who is disbarred.

The measure has had virtually no opposition in the Legislature; the Senate, which approved it once, must now vote on it again to concur with changes made in a House committee.

It will become law as soon as Easley signs it, which he has said he will.

Easley appointed Nifong to the district attorney's office in 2005 and has since then called the decision his poorest appointment. There is no indication about whom Easley will appoint to replace Nifong.

"You are given a lot of power and you can destroy a reputation in moments with just a few words," Easley, a former prosecutor, said Monday. "This was much more than a mistake."

Dick Ellis, a spokesman for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, said Nifong will still be eligible for his full retirement benefits -- a pension and health care -- that he accrued while working as a state employee for nearly 30 years.

But because he served fewer than five years as district attorney, he is not vested in a more lucrative retirement system for judges, prosecutors and the director of the courts office.