December 29, 2006

Nifong In Trouble

Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong faces charges of ethical violations at the North Carolina Bar Association due to his inflammatory and misleading comments to the press during the rape investigation of three Duke lacrosse team members. The statements that the NCBA highlights look especially questionable, given the withdrawal of the specific counts of rape last week, and the complaints could result in Nifong's disbarment:

The North Carolina Bar Association filed ethics charges Thursday against the prosecutor in the Duke University rape case, accusing him of saying misleading and inflammatory things to the media about the lacrosse players under suspicion.

The punishment for ethics violations can range from admonishment to disbarment.

Among the four rules of professional conduct that District Attorney Mike Nifong was accused of violating was a prohibition against making comments "that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused."

The comments made by Nifong come from the first weeks of the investigation of the supposed gang-rape at a team party. He told the press that he was convinced that a rape occurred, despite the later revelation that Nifong had not even spoken to the complainant until December. Nifong tried to explain away a lack of DNA evidence linking any of the men to the supposed attack by suggesting they wore condoms, even though he knew the accuser had already insisted to a nurse that they had not. He called the Duke players "hooligans" and derided their decision to seek representation, saying in effect that hiring lawyers was a suspicious act.

The NCBA opened its investigation almost as soon as the case hit the papers, and it looks like they have focused on just the earlier peccadilloes of Nifong. It does not include the revelation that Nifong conspired with the head of a laboratory to keep exculpatory findings from the defendants in violation of not just ethics but the law. That came out just last week when Brian Meehan testified under oath to the agreement he and Nifong made to keep secret the findings that the DNA of several men had been found on the victim, none of whom were the accused rapists, despite the insistence of the accuser that she had not had recent relations with anyone else.

Perhaps the charges that Nifong does face do not rise to a high enough level to disbar him, but the disciplinary committee should consider how badly Nifong has twisted the system even outside of the specifics in front of them when considering his fate. Durham and these defendants should not have to wait for the NCBA to play catch-up to his latest and most egregious malfeasance. Nifong has made it clear that he has no business inside a courtroom, and the longer the NCBA takes to reach that conclusion, the more damage Nifong does to the community. Prosecutions should be about exposing the truth, not hiding it to save the reputation of a thoroughly incompetent district attorney at the expense of the unfairly accused.

And think about this: we only know about this one case, and that's because of the high profile of the defendants. Think about what Nifong may have done that flew under the national or even regional media's radar.


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