Duke lacrosse prosecutor disbarred - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Duke lacrosse prosecutor disbarred

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RALEIGH, North Carolina (CNN) -- The prosecutor in the Duke University lacrosse team rape case was disbarred Saturday for unethical conduct, and the chairman of the disciplinary committee blamed "political ambition" for his downfall.

Earlier Saturday, the panel of the North Carolina State Bar concluded that Durham County, North Carolina, District Attorney Mike Nifong violated more than a dozen ethics rules in prosecuting the case against the now-exonerated players.

"This matter has been a fiasco," said disciplinary committee chairman F. Lane Williamson. "It seems that at the root of it is self-deception arising out of self-interest. (Watch Williamson deliver the verdict Video)

"We had a prosecutor who was faced with a very unusual situation in which the confluence of his self-interest collided with a very volatile mix of race, sex and class."

The panel determined Nifong withheld key DNA evidence from the players' defense attorneys that might have cleared them earlier, and lied to the presiding judge and state bar investigators.

The three students -- Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans -- were accused of sexually assaulting an escort-service dancer at a party in March 2006.

Two DNA tests found no match between any of the three men and evidence in the case, but Nifong -- who was up for re-election at the time -- pursued the prosecution anyway.

North Carolina's attorney general eventually took over the case and in April of this year determined the charges were unfounded and said Nifong would face a state bar disciplinary hearing.

 

"Dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation"

Throughout the proceedings Saturday, Nifong sat quietly with no expression.

As the three former Duke students and their families looked on, Williamson said Nifong practiced "dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation."

"We are in unanimous agreement there is no discipline short of disbarment that would be appropriate in this case, given the magnitude of the offenses we have found and the effect upon the profession and the public," Williamson said. (Read the ethics complaintexternal link)

Williamson said that racially inflammatory remarks Nifong made last year "were to further his political ambition." The three athletes are white, and their accuser is black.

Nifong was re-elected in November.

The bar committee found Nifong lied to the judge in the rape case about whether he knew of any evidence that would exonerate the defendants. After that lie, "in his mind the facts remained that way in the face of developing evidence that that was not in fact the case," Williamson said.

After a recess in the hearing, Nifong's attorney surprised the panel by saying his client believed he deserved to be disbarred.

"I've talked with Mr. Nifong, and he has told me [that] in light of the findings of fact this commission has made -- and he's told me that he believes this has been a fair and full hearing of the facts -- that he believes that disbarment is the appropriate punishment in this case," defense attorney David Freedman said.

Freedman also said Nifong would waive all right of appeal in the proceedings.

"He hopes this helps restore some of the confidence in the criminal justice system of North Carolina," Freedman said, according to The Associated Press.

A tearful Nifong told the court Friday that he would resign as district attorney, regardless of what the committee decided. He also apologized to the players and their families and to the community.

One of those testifying Saturday was Evans' father, David Charles Evans, who said the ordeal caused extreme stress to him and his family.

Evans said his son "believes that when he dies, no matter what he does in his life, he will be [remembered as] one of the three Duke players accused of rape."

State Bar prosecutor Douglas Brocker told the committee that "Mr. Nifong did not act as a minister of justice, but as a minister of injustice," AP reported.

After the hearing, attorneys for the exonerated lacrosse players said they would push for criminal charges against Nifong.

"I don't think that any of us are done with Mr. Nifong yet," said Jim Cooney, Seligmann's attorney.

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