RALEIGH, N.C. — The state House unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would give the governor the power to remove disbarred judges and district attorneys — and require him to use it.
The bill wasn't crafted with the Duke lacrosse case in mind, but leaders from all three branches of government agreed the timing was right and the bill was long overdue.
Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong's disbarment and subsequent decision to stay in office another four weeks rubbed many in his profession the wrong way.
“I would call it ‘nifongus,’ where you're professionally unqualified to hold office, but won't leave the office,” said former state Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake.
“It's hard for me to realize that we've come to this stage, where we have a professional that has been disqualified and won't leave office,” Lake said.
The bill, which has to be re-passed by the Senate because of some technical changes the House made, would give the governor new power to declare a district attorney’s or judicial position vacant once the office-holder is disbarred and has exhausted all appeals.
Nifong’s disbarment by the State Bar takes effect in 30 days, and he said he would not appeal the decision and would resign effective July 14.
Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, said the catalyst for the bill had nothing to do with Mike Nifong and everything to do with District Judge James Ethridge. Ethridge refused to resign when the bar took his law license last October.
The bar had accused him of defrauding a client out of her money while acting as her attorney, not as a judge.
“He couldn't sit, he continued to draw a salary of a hundred and some thousand dollars a year, and we were having to pay emergency judges to go and hold court,” Rand said.
Written for Ethridge and pushed through because of Nifong, the bill has overwhelming support from both chambers, and Gov. Mike Easley has pledged to sign the bill when it reaches his desk’s signature.