DAs Call for Prosecutor in Duke Lacrosse Case to Step Down

ByABC News
December 29, 2006, 7:46 PM

Dec. 29, 2006 — -- In yet another moral blow to Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys called for the prosecutor to step down from the Duke lacrosse case.

The group, which represents district attorneys from across North Carolina, said in a statement that "it is in the interest of justice and the effective administration of criminal justice that Mr. Nifong immediately withdraw and recuse himself from the prosecution."

"It's extraordinarily unusual and it means a great deal," said Joshua Marquis, a district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore.

The district attorney group also called for the case to be reassigned and handed over to "another prosecutorial authority."

The statement was prompted by charges of ethics violations against Nifong filed Thursday by the North Carolina bar. Those allegations accuse Nifong of making inappropriate comments about the case in a series of press interviews early in the proceedings.

"As prosecutors, we do not try our cases in the media. We do not file charges frivolously," Marquis, who is active in the National District Attorneys Association, told ABC News.

"I do not know what the merit of the charges are, but Mr. Nifong has not brought respect to our profession," Marquis said. "Some of his actions have brought great disrepute on the profession of prosecution."

Under North Carolina state law, there is no rule requiring Nifong to recuse himself from the case, even though he has been charged with ethics violations. But Nifong's critics -- including defense attorneys for the three indicted Duke lacrosse players -- say Nifong should step down because the ethics charges create a glaring and unavoidable conflict of interest. A prosecutor, they argue, cannot make fair and independent decisions when he himself is in legal hot water.

"My opinion is that this crystallizes the conflict of interest," Thomas Metzloff, a member of the North Carolina bar and professor at Duke Law School, told ABC News.

No sooner than three months from now, Nifong will stand trial before a panel drawn from the bar's disciplinary hearing commission. If that panel finds Nifong guilty of misconduct, he would be subject to punishment ranging from private admonishment to disbarment.