What's Next for Nifong? More Legal Woes

Disbarred DA Mike Nifong could face civil and criminal charges.

February 10, 2009, 5:55 PM

June 18, 2007 — -- Mike Nifong has lost his law license and his seat as Durham County district attorney. And he could lose more than that in the months ahead.

Criminal charges are possible, and civil lawsuits are a virtual certainty for the disgraced former attorney.

Nifong, who brought charges against three Duke University lacrosse players, was disbarred Saturday for unethical conduct in his handling of the case. But attorneys for the falsely accused players say there's more in store, saying there are plans to file a motion this week asking Durham County Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith to consider additional punishment.

Smith presided over pretrial hearings in the Duke lacrosse case. As part of its decision to revoke his license, the North Carolina Bar found Nifong guilty of lying to Smith about the existence of exculpatory DNA evidence, evidence that he had not handed over to the defense in a clear report. The players' attorneys say Nifong buried information about unidentified male DNA found on the accuser's body and clothing in hundreds of pages of raw data.

In their motion defense, the attorneys plan to ask Smith for further sanctions against Nifong, punishment that could include fines and contempt of court. A ruling of contempt could come with jail time.

Nifong could also face lawsuits from the exonerated players and their families. Joe Cheshire, an attorney for former Duke lacrosse captain David Evans, one of the three exonerated players, said he expects "excessive civil action" against Nifong.

"Some people will take that as being mean-spirited and kicking somebody when they're down," Cheshire said Sunday to The Associated Press. "But we believe that this issue is enormously important and it carries significant precedent, and (the judge) ought to be the one to make that decision because it happened in his court."

The families are seeking an independent investigation into Nifong's conduct -- an inquiry that could determine whether he committed any criminal violations in prosecuting the Duke players. Prosecutors are normally immune from criminal charges, but attorneys for the lacrosse players say Nifong went beyond his role as a prosecutor by actively investigating the case alongside the Durham Police Department.

Requests for a federal investigation have also been made by several members of Congress, including Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla. The lawmakers believe Nifong violated the players' constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.

Nifong accepted his punishment from the North Carolina Bar, saying that disbarment was an "appropriate" penalty for his actions and that he would waive any right to an appeal. Over the course of his five-day ethics hearing he admitted to making major mistakes during the case but said he did not do anything intentionally unethical. Instead, he cited his lack of experience with high-profile cases and said that he got "carried away" by the national press coverage the case.

Matt Heck, president of the National District Attorneys Association, told ABC News that disbarment for conduct during a specific prosecution is "very, very rare.'' He added that his organization "agree[s] with the [North Carolina State Bar] committee, its decisions and its conclusions.''

Still, Heck said that Nifong is living "a prosecutor's worst nightmare -- to think of prosecuting and convicting an innocent person.''

Nifong's disbarment ended his three-decade run as a Durham County prosecutor and a lifelong career as a public servant. Nifong was a social worker before getting his law degree and worked as an assistant district attorney.

As part of its decision, a Bar panel cited his years of service and lack of prior disciplinary issues as points in Nifong's favor. But ultimately the Bar found that there was no counterweight to Nifong's conduct on the Duke lacrosse case.

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