Local News

Nifong Wants State to Represent Him in Civil Case

Posted October 15, 2007 3:24 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2007 10:38 p.m. EDT

— Former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong has asked that the North Carolina Attorney General's Office represent him in a federal lawsuit filed by the three former Duke University lacrosse players he prosecuted last year.

"Because I was a constitutional officer of the State of North Carolina at the time that the subject matter of the complaint arose … and because the complaint arises out of the exercise of the duties of that office, I am hereby requesting that you make any arrangements to secure my representation in this matter," Nifong wrote in a letter, dated Oct. 8, to the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. ()

If not, because of a conflict of interest or "any other disability," the disbarred prosecutor wants private counsel and wants the state to pay for it.

"I am requesting that you authorize payment by the State of North Carolina of all fees, costs and expenses arising out of my representation in this matter by private counsel," Nifong wrote.

Earlier this month, attorneys for the three wrongly accused players – David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann – filed a complaint against several defendants, including Nifong and the City of Durham, seeking unspecified punitive and compensatory damages, attorney fees and numerous changes in the way the Durham Police Department handles criminal investigations.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general said the office is reviewing Nifong's request. Neither Nifong nor his attorney, James B. Craven III, returned calls Monday.

Former federal prosecutor Dan Boyce said Nifong's request is not unprecedented among former state employees facing legal action, but the circumstances of the case could prove difficult for Nifong. (Watch Boyce's full interview.)

"It's another unique issue because of his actions in this case," Boyce said.

"It could be that the Attorney General's Office might say this was outside the normal scope of the duties of the state prosecutor and refuse to provide state funds for defense," Boyce added.

If the attorney general decides Nifong was acting within his scope, Boyce said, another set of issues might arise – whether the attorney general's office would have a conflict of interest.

"And it might even include the appearance of any impropriety, because the attorney general's office said some egregious things about Mr. Nifong's conduct," Boyce said.

Upon dismissing the case on April 11, Attorney General Roy Cooper called Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann innocent victims of a "tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations."

Without naming Nifong, he came down forcefully against "overreaching prosecutors" and called for a law that would allow the state Supreme Court to remove a district attorney from a case whenever such a move would assist the pursuit of justice.

"There were many point in this case where caution would have served justice better than bravado," he said. "In the rush to condemn, a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly."

Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann were charged in April and May 2006 after exotic dancer Crystal Mangum claimed she was raped at an off-campus party held by lacrosse players. Nifong pursued charges of first-degree rape, kidnapping and sexual assault until December, when he dismissed the rape charge against the three men.

Less than a month later, he recused himself from the case and asked for a special prosecutor to handle it.

The lawsuit charges Nifong and the other defendants conspired to keep alive a pitifully weak case as he faced a tightly contested election in the Democratic primary for district attorney.

The ex-players contend that Nifong, the police department and others withheld exculpatory evidence, intimidated witnesses who would undermined the investigation, made numerous public statements to smear the lacrosse players and used a photo lineup that had only lacrosse players so Mangum would name team members as her attackers.

The city plans to fight the lawsuit, which also demands numerous changes in how the Durham Police Department handles investigations and trains its officers.

Nifong resigned from office in July. He also served one day in jail in September after a judge held him in criminal contempt of court for lying about having turned over critical DNA test results to defense attorneys.