Nifong surrenders law license

Nifong surrenders law license
June 17th, 2007  

Topic: Nifong surrenders law license

Nifong surrenders law license
Nifong surrenders law license

By Joseph Neff and Anne Blythe, Staff Writers

After 15 months of waging war in the Duke lacrosse case, Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong raised the white flag Saturday and surrendered his law license. Nifong gave up minutes after a state panel ruled that the Durham District Attorney had intentionally and repeatedly lied and cheated as he prosecuted three former lacrosse players on rape charges.
Disbarment, the toughest penalty a lawyer can face, and nothing short of disbarment fit the magnitude of Nifong's offenses, said the Disciplinary Hearing Commission, which serves as judge and jury to lawyers charged with wrongdoing.
"It's been truly a fiasco," said chairman Lane Williamson in his ruling.
Saturday marked the first time a North Carolina prosecutor has been disbarred for courtroom cheating. Williamson said that message that cheating can cost prosecutors their law license was perhaps the only positive outcome in the case.
Williamson ticked off a long list of victims in the case: the exonerated players, David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann; their families; the entire lacrosse team and coach; Duke University; the city of Durham, and North Carolina's justice system. After the hearing ended, the three players and their families exchanged hugs and goodbyes. The mood in the courtroom was one of relief after more than year of stress and uncertainty.
"We take no joy in this proceeding," said David Evans, father of Dave Evans.
"There are no winners in this," said Kevin Finnerty, Collin's father.
Nifong did not speak at Saturday's hearing, and declined to speak afterwards. Just before he gave up his bar license, he sat with his wife, Cy Gurney, both in tears.
His lawyer, David Freedman, said Nifong felt that he had been given a fair hearing and thought that disbarment was the appropriate punishment. Nifong will not appeal the case, Freedman said.
As he concluded the five day hearing, Williamson struggled to explain the self-destruction of Nifong, who has spent his entire 28 year legal career as a Durham prosecutor.
"Why, why did we get to the place we got?" Williamson asked. "At the root of it is self-deception arising out of self-interest. ... His self-interest collided with a very volatile mix of race, sex and class, a situation which if it were a plot in a John Grisham novel would be considered to be too contrived."
According to Williamson, Nifong grabbed hold of the case in the middle of a hotly contested election campaign. An escort service dancer, Crystal Gail Mangum, said she was raped by three men at a lacrosse team party. Nifong immediately went on a media blitz without reading police reports, or talking with Mangum, or waiting for DNA tests. Nifong asserted a racially assault occurred and labeled players "hooligans."
The case slowly crumbled under Nifong's feet, but he never backed down on the charges.
The accuser told different accounts of the alleged rape every time she spoke with investigators. There was no medical evidence of an assault. DNA tests failed to turn up match with any player.
The tests did find DNA from at least four unidentified men. Nifong knew these results before he brought the first indictment, but he did not disclose the test results for seven months despite repeated requests and court orders to turn over such evidence.
"The fact that we have found dishonesty and misconduct, requires us to enter the most severe sanction that we can enter," Willliamson said.
For much of the week, the lacrosse players and their parents have watched the proceedings against a man who made their life miserable for more than a year.
Mary Ellen Finnerty testified about how her son, Collin, 20, was thrust into a public spotlight that made him uncomfortable. David Charles Evans, father of Dave Evans and a corporate lawyer, testified Saturday about the 14 months of turmoil that he and his family suffered because of Nifong's rush to prosecute.
Many of his nights were filled with fitful hours of interrupted sleep, wondering how to help his son get out from under the charges of which he was falsely accused.
Evans said his son owned up shortly after the spring break team party to mistakes --- of holding the party at his house and hiring strippers. The younger Evans also cooperated with police when they came to the house he shared with two other team captains and wrote a seven-page detailed description of what happened.
That narrative became a roadmap that first Durham police and later the attorney general used in their investigations.
Father and son were upset that Nifong declared on national TV that players were not cooperating with the investigation.
"We were floored," Evans said. "Our son had cooperated."
Evans was charged on May 12, 2006, the day after he received his degree from Duke University. Because of the felony charges, Morgan Stanley withdrew a job offer.
The day after State Attorney General Roy Cooper exonerated the players and declared them innocent of all charges against them, the company invited Evans back on their team, but he already had accepted a different Wall Street job.
Just when the family thought they were beginning to put things behind them, the senior Evans testified Saturday, Nifong made a statement that once again floored them.
On Friday, under the probing questioning of the disciplinary panel chairman, Nifong said he still believed something, not a sexual assault, but something happened in the bathroom of the house at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. the night of the team party. "I had a real hard time with that," Evans said.
Special prosecutors from the attorney general's office concluded after a 12-week investigation that there was no evidence of a sexual assault or any assault at that house. Benjamin Himan, the lead investigator in the Duke lacrosse case who also helped with the attorney general's investigation, testified this week that he, too, had concluded that no assault took place at that house. Nifong's statement cast another dark cloud over the players and their families.
"What that does it take me back to March," Evans said.
Williamson, chairman of the Bar's disciplinary panel, did what he could to send a different message than Nifong.
"Even today," Williamson said, "one must say, in the face of a declaration of innocence by the North Carolina attorney general, the defendant [Nifong] still believes the facts to be one way. The world now knows that is not the case."
Nifong's decisions this week to step down as Durham district attorney and tender his law license will keep him out of a courtroom for the next five years as a practicing lawyer.
But that does not mean the prosecutor who bet his career on the Duke lacrosse case will not be back in a courtroom.
Defense lawyers said they plan to file a motion asking Judge W. Osmond Smith III to sanction Nifong for his actions in court.
Earlier this month, Smith issued a memorandum saying that he retains control over the lacrosse case and has the power to discipline Nifong as well.
In his memorandum, Smith, the Superior Court judge assigned to the lacrosse case, wrote that significant concerns about evidence arose during a Dec. 15 hearing.
At that hearing, Brian Meehan, director of the private lab that did DNA testing, testified that he and Nifong agreed to write a report that only included information about DNA matches. In crafting the report that way, the prosecutor and lab director excluded crucial information about the presence of DNA from unidentified men -- evidence that could have helped the defense prove the innocence of their clients.
The defense plans to ask the court to hold Nifong financially responsible for the 60 to 100 hours of legal work it took Brad Bannon, the defense lawyer known as the DNA code-cracker, to ferret out the one chart in 1,844 pages of DNA documents and decipher that it contained cryptic information about the presence of other DNA.
The families, who have spent more than $3 million, have contemplated civil suits and lobbied for the federal justice department to open a criminal investigation into civil rights violations.
"I would be surprised if the saga of Mike Nifong is over," said Joseph B. Cheshire V, one of the defense lawyers. "His continued efforts to smear the members of the Duke lacrosse team, which were recognized by the panel, did not endear him to the players families or anyone he hurt in this."
Speculating on why Nifong surrendered his license at the last minute, Cheshire compared the prosecutor to a death row inmate on the eve of execution.
"You cut your your sheet and hang yourself to be in control of your own destiny."
June 17th, 2007  
Bastard got off easy.... He should be doing jail time for trying to screw over three innocent men.
June 17th, 2007  
Team Infidel
oh, don't worry, he will do some time
Nifong surrenders law license
June 18th, 2007  
he's a shameless liar (or a lawyer LOL )

Similar Topics
A Law Terrorism Outran
Iraqi Lawmakers Argue For Caution In Shaping Oil Law
New Law Could Subject Civilians To Military Trial
Official Attacks Top Law Firms Over Detainees
[split from John Glen]Whitewater and Rose State Law Firm