Local News

State Won't Defend Nifong in Lacrosse Players' Suit

Posted October 18, 2007 11:55 a.m. EDT
Updated October 19, 2007 12:35 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Attorney General's Office on Thursday rejected a request by former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong to represent him in a federal lawsuit filed by three former Duke University lacrosse players.

In a letter sent to Nifong Thursday, Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson Kelley wrote that state law allows the Attorney General's Office to deny legal representation to state officials being sued for actions outside the scope of their official duties or actions that involved fraud, corruption or malice.

Nifong's lawyer, James B. Craven III, of Durham, sent a letter Thursday, saying he was disappointed with the decision. He added that it does not "provide much comfort for state employees threatened with civil liability for actions taken in the course of their employment with the state."

Last week, Nifong asked the state to provide him with defense attorneys in the case or pay for his legal fees because he was a state employee at the time he prosecuted the sexual assault case involving David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

Two weeks ago, attorneys for the three players filed the federal lawsuit against Nifong, the city of Durham and others linked to the case. They are asking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and numerous changes in the way the Durham Police Department handles criminal investigations.

The case against Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann was dismissed in April after special prosecutors deemed there was no credible evidence to support a woman's allegation that the men attacked her while she was performing as a stripper at an off-campus team party in March 2006.

Nifong was disbarred in June after a North Carolina State Bar disciplinary panel found he had violated several rules of professional conduct in his handling of the lacrosse case. He resigned his position a few weeks later.

He was found guilty of criminal contempt of court a month later for making false statements in a September 2006 court hearing in the case. He served a one-day sentence in the Durham County Jail.

Nifong now has about two weeks to respond to the civil complaint against him.

A spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts said the agency will also decline to defend him.