Local News

Lawyers Discuss Potential Duke Lacrosse Civil Rights Lawsuit

Posted September 5, 2007 6:59 a.m. EDT
Updated September 5, 2007 6:10 p.m. EDT

— High-profile attorneys representing three former Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of rape and sexual assault met Wednesday with legal counsel for the City of Durham about a possible civil rights lawsuit.

A city spokeswoman confirmed last month that civil attorneys for David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann contacted the city about, but it was not known who would be named in any complaint.

"At this point, it is inappropriate to comment regarding the meeting and possible claims," Durham public affairs director Amy Blalock said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

Attorneys for the city were to brief Durham City Council members Thursday at 11 a.m. in a closed meeting.

Attorneys for the falsely accused former lacrosse players had no comment Wednesday, but Finnerty's father, Kevin Finnerty, said he sees the potential litigation as a way to hold the city accountable.

"If there were crimes committed and these people truly did things criminally and wrong, and they're responsible, then they're responsible," he said.

Seligmann retained New York attorney Barry Scheck, who helped defend O.J. Simpson in his highly publicized 1995 murder trial, to represent him.

Evans and Finnerty retained Washington D.C. attorneys Christopher Manning and Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. – who received attention for representing Lt. Col. Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal.

"We do have civil counsel. They are also excellent," Kevin Finnerty said. "We are following their lead."

The threat of a lawsuit has temporarily halted the work of an independent committee examining the Durham Police Department's handling of the case. The city's insurance company has warned that the panel's findings could be evidence in a case.

But some City Council members said Wednesday they think the third-party review should resume and that the truth is more important than the potential millions of dollars the city could lose.

"Clearly, there were some mistakes, and in the end, people have to be held accountable," at-large council member Thomas Stith III said.

"(The civil attorneys) are big names, but so what," Ward 2 council member Howard Clement said. "We're going to find out where the truth is."

Evans, Seligmann and Finnerty were indicted in Spring 2006 on first-degree rape, kidnapping and sexual assault charges after exotic dancer Crystal Mangum accused them of attacked her at a party in March 2006.

In December, then-District Attorney Mike Nifong dismissed rape charges after Mangum wavered in key details of her stories. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed the case against the players in April, declaring them innocent.

Since then, the focus of the case has turned to Nifong and the police department.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell and some Council members called for the independent investigation into the police department's handling of the case in May following an internal report that found detectives did nothing wrong in conducting their investigation.

In June, Nifong was stripped of his law license as a result of his behavior surrounding the case. He resigned as district attorney in July.

And last week, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III held Nifong in criminal contempt for lying to the court during a hearing on the case last September. Nifong will report to the Durham County Jail on Friday to serve a one-day sentence.

After months of courtroom hearings, Kevin Finnerty said he's open to more legal action if it can serve as a deterrent to future prosecutions.

"The last year-and-a-half has been the worst moments of our lifetime by far and away, and you wouldn't want this one anybody," he said.