After nearly three decades as a prosecutor in Durham County, Mike Nifong’s career is officially over.
Disgraced by his politically motivated prosecution of three Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of rape, Nifong submitted a fresh letter of resignation Monday, agreeing to leave office immediately a move that headed off a hearing to kick him out of office.
In reality, the letter was only a formality. Nifong had already been disbarred, suspended from office and replaced by his old boss as Durham County district attorney for his handling of the discredited lacrosse case. He submitted a resignation letter last month stating he would leave office July 13.
But Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson moved ahead last week with an effort to remove Nifong under a rarely used process established in state law. The judge said there was “no defense” for Nifong’s actions, but held off booting him from office until Monday, allowing Nifong time to send Gov. Mike Easley a new letter of resignation.
Nifong didn’t appear at last week’s hearing and he wasn’t in Hudson’s courtroom Monday. But since Easley’s office received the letter Monday morning, Hudson decided there was no longer a reason to consider the removal petition filed in February by Durham resident and Nifong political opponent Beth Brewer.
“I think the people of Durham County are ready to get on to the good business of healing,” Robert Zaytoun, the Raleigh attorney appointed by Hudson to prosecute a Brewer’s request, said afterward. “The system has worked here.”
Brewer’s attorney, Betty Lawrence, pressed Hudson unsuccessfully during a brief hearing to remove Nifong anyway, calling it a symbolic move that would be equivalent to a condemnation from the judicial system. Without such an order, Nifong could potentially get his law license back and again run for office, Lawrence said.
Hudson dismissed the suggestion, calling Nifong “absolutely unelectable.”
“Woe be it to the people of Durham County if they’re fooled again,” Hudson said, adding later, “I do not think he will be elected for any position in the United States again.”
When Lawrence raised the possibility that Nifong could be appointed by a future governor to fill an unexpired term which is how he first became district attorney Hudson responded, “What governor? Of what state?”
Regardless, Lawrence said afterward she and Brewer would discuss whether they had any other options left to pursue.
“It was so clear that (Hudson) had found the grounds for removal,” Lawrence said, “and not to go on and make that finding and have the condemnation of the judicial system on the conduct I think is a very grave omission in this whole process.”
It is believed a court has only once before used the law cited by Brewer to kick a sitting district attorney out of office. In the first case, a resident of New Hanover County filed a complaint in 1995 against District Attorney Jerry Spivey, accusing him of using a racial slur during a dispute at a bar in Wrightsville Beach.
Nifong spend his entire career in the Durham County prosecutor’s office, where he started as a volunteer in 1978 after graduating from law school. Easley appointed him district attorney in 2005, after Jim Hardin left to become a judge, and he was elected to the office last year during the height of the lacrosse investigation.
While his career as an attorney is over, the fallout from the lacrosse case will continue later this month when a second judge considers holding him in criminal contempt of court.
Last week, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III said he had found probable cause to believe Nifong “willfully and intentionally made false statements of material fact” during a hearing held last year in the lacrosse case. If held in criminal contempt at a hearing scheduled for July 26, Nifong faces up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
A disciplinary committee of the North Carolina State Bar ruled last month that Nifong broke more than two dozen rules of professional conduct while investigating allegations a woman was raped at a party thrown by Duke’s highly ranked lacrosse team in March 2006.
Nifong won indictments against three players, who were cleared in April by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Cooper said the three were the innocent victims of Nifong’s “tragic rush to accuse.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com