Freedman said Nifong would have stepped down sooner, but he waited to speak directly with the accuser, a 28-year-old woman who said that three Duke lacrosse players had sexually assaulted her in March.
"He couldn't [take] steps to get out until he actually talked to the prosecuting witness in the case," Freedman said.
"He didn't want her to find out about the case the same way he's found out about [a] lot [of] developments about the case: in the media. He felt the responsibility to tell her [himself]."
Nifong could not reach the accuser until Jan. 12 because of medical complications related to her pregnancy.
While the specifics of Nifong's defense are still unclear, the severity of the charges against him is without question.
"When you have a conservative organization like the North Carolina State Bar alleging that someone got up to the line and crossed over the line, it's pretty strong evidence that something occurred that should not have occurred," Edmisten said.
"I don't want to condemn Mr. Nifong," Edmisten said. "I think he started out well meaning, and this just overtook him. But a prosecutor can't inflame the public so that the accused cannot get a fair trial. That's what the complaint is from the state bar -- and that's the more minor part."
Even in a case full of surprising developments that strain precedent, no one in Durham can remember a case where a district attorney had to defend himself on ethics charges in an ongoing case.
As things stand, Nifong could be defending himself in court before the indicted Duke lacrosse players do -- if the sexual assault case goes to trial.
ABC News' Rony Camille in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.