Nifong Submits Immediate Resignation
Posted July 2, 2007 5:42 a.m. EDT
Updated July 2, 2007 6:42 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — After nearly three decades in the Durham County district attorney's office, disbarred prosecutor Mike Nifong turned in his resignation Monday morning.
It marked the second time in two weeks that Nifong sent a resignation letter to Gov. Mike Easley.
The first letter came on June 18, two days after the North Carolina State Bar's disciplinary commission voted to strip Nifong of his law license. The commission found Nifong had violated 27 of 32 rules of professional conduct in his handling of the Duke University lacrosse team sexual assault case.
Nifong initially wanted to remain in office until July 13. But Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said, however, he didn't want Nifong in charge of the district attorney's office for an extra month, saying that would call into question all prosecutions that the office handled during that time.
Hudson suspended Nifong on June 19, and Easley appointed Jim Hardin, a former district attorney who was serving as a special Superior Court judge, as interim district attorney until someone could be named to fill the rest of Nifong's term.
"It was my hope at that time to facilitate a professional transition to a new administration for the fine people who work in the district attorney's office," Nifong wrote in his second resignation letter. "The circumstances that have arisen since my initial letter of resignation have made it clear such an effort is no longer either necessary or practical."
Easley, who had criticized Nifong's earlier decision to remain in office, accepted the resignation.
Hudson had scheduled a Monday hearing on a civil complaint filed in February by Durham resident Elizabeth Brewer that sought to have Nifong removed from office on the grounds of willful misconduct in the Duke lacrosse case.
Nifong didn't show up for the hearing, and Hudson said his resignation made the removal process moot.
"The system is not broken. I think there's been some broken trust, but I think we're well on our way to restoring (that)," said Robert Zaytoun, a Raleigh attorney appointed as special prosecutor for the removal hearing.
But Brewer and her attorney, Betty Lawrence, said the hearing should have gone on so a formal ruling could have been obtained to permanently remove Nifong from elected office.
"I don't think Nifong could run for office and be re-elected, but the fact remains that should be taken away from him," Brewer said.
Lawrence pleaded with Hudson during the 20-minute hearing to see the issue out.
"The man has been disbarred. The man is going to be subject to reinstatement at some point in the future. Lawyers do this all the time – they get disbarred and they ask for their license(s) back, and sometimes they get it," Lawrence said. "While we may have our opinions as to Mr. Nifong's chances of getting his license back, we have no assurance that he won't."
Hudson maintained Nifong's legal problems make him unelectable to any public position anywhere, so there was no need for a court order removing him from office to be on his record.
"Woe be it upon the people of Durham County or any other county in the United States of America that would elect Mr. Nifong," he said. "People have the right to elect him or not elect him. I do not believe he will be elected for any position in the United States of America."
Nifong is also scheduled to appear in court on July 26 to face criminal contempt charges. That hearing has been scheduled by Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith, who oversaw the Duke lacrosse case.
"It looks pretty much like a slam dunk based on the testimony that came out in the bar hearing," said attorney Mark Edwards, who isn't involved in the case. "I think the judge will find him in contempt. It's unprecedented."