Former Duke Prosecutor Nifong Disbarred

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong has been disbarred after being found guilty of a battery of ethics violations for his handling of the Duke Lacrosse investigation, a North Carolina Bar disciplinary committee announced Saturday evening.

"We are in unanimous agreement that there is no discipline short of disbarment that would be appropiate in this case," said F. Lane Williamson, the committee's chairman.

Before the panel announced its punishment, Nifong said he believed disbarment would be appropriate and that he planned to waive all rights to appeal the findings of the bar panel, his attorney David Freedman said in court Saturday afternoon.

"He hopes that in light of his accepting his punishment it will restore some of the confidence in the criminal justice system," Freedman said. "You have some semblance of relief when this is all over, regardless of the outcome."

After announcing Nifong's punishment, Williamson excoriated the disgraced prosecutor. He said Nifong was driven to prosecute the Duke Lacrosse case out of "self-interest and self-deception."

"Sometimes character is called upon ... and it is found wanting," Williamson said. "That is what happened to Mr. Nifong."

The bar's three-member disciplinary panel unanimously found Nifong guilty of fraud, dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation; of making false statements of material fact before a judge; of making false statements of material fact before bar investigators, and of lying about withholding exculpatory DNA evidence, among other violations.

Nifong's punishment could have ranged from a written reprimand to disbarment. He already announced Friday his intention to resign as district attorney.

With the panel's decision, the long saga of what was once known as the Duke Lacrosse rape scandal may be largely over, though a raft of civil lawsuits are expected.

Nifong's conviction was widely anticipated as long-overdue justice for the three players who were indicted in spring 2006 on charges of rape, kidnapping, and sexual offense.

Last April, the three were cleared of all charges and declared innocent by the attorney general of North Carolina.

All three exonerated Duke Lacrosse players -- Reade Seligmann, David Evans and Collin Finnerty -- were in the courtroom Saturday with their families. They listened intently as Nifong was found to have behaved unethically, but showed little emotion.

Later, as Nifong's disbarment was announced, there was an air of relief and satisfaction among the lacrosse players and their families.

"They are relieved and thankful," said Wade Smith, a veteran North Carolina attorney who represented the Finnertys. "While it doesn't take away the pain and it doesn't change anything, it helps these three boys feel as though they can go on with their lives," he said.

The three lacrosse players' families are moving on. David Evans found a new job in finance. His first offer was revoked after his indictment. Reade Seligmann will be attend Brown University this fall. Collin Finnerty will make a decision shortly about where to start his junior year.

Moving on won't be as easy for Nifong. Attorneys for the exonerated lacrosse players say they have more in store by way of legal action.

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

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