It's officially over. At a press conference Wednesday, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced the dismissal of all charges against former Duke men's lacrosse players David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty-and blasted Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong.
In calling the accused "innocent," Cooper went well beyond the threshold of dismissing the charges simply because of insufficient evidence. He expressed full confidence the three men had not committed a crime. The formerly indicted players' names were cleared.
Also crucial, though, is the fact that the AG placed much of the blame for this ordeal on Nifong.
Cooper's comments come amid an ongoing ethical investigation evaluating Nifong's behavior in this case. And now, all eyes are turned to Nifong.
It is now quite apparent that he abused his position as the prosecutor in this case and blatantly failed to obey rules governing the ethical conduct of attorneys. According to those rules, published both by the American Bar Association and the North Carolina State Bar, "A lawyer shall not... unlawfully obstruct another party's access to evidence or unlawfully alter, destroy or conceal a document or other material having potential evidentiary value." With the revelation in December 2006 that Nifong had deliberately withheld DNA evidence from the defense, Nifong certainly appears to have violated this stipulation.
In addition, the American Bar Association outlines proper prosecutorial relations with the media: "A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter." With irresponsible comments that assured Durham citizens and the world that the three accused players had definitely committed rape, Nifong appears to have broken this rule.
With these two violations in mind, alone, Nifong clearly failed the test of upholding ethical prosecutorial benchmarks.
In addition to these missteps, the reaction of two groups of Nifong's professional peers remains quite telling in evaluating his worthiness as a prosecutor and DA.
This board by no means claims legal expertise, but these groups certainly do. The unprecedented and united public criticism of Nifong from the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys last December illustrated just how far Nifong had gone over the line of appropriate behavior. If the official organization of his professional peers-a group usually concerned with fiercely defending its members-publicly questions his competency, serious doubts must arise about his ability to prosecute future cases.
Finally, the latest blow to Nifong came from the highest-ranking lawyer in the state-AG Roy Cooper.
Citing a "rush to accuse" by an "unchecked" Durham district attorney who acted based on "bravado," Cooper cast the deciding ballot Wednesday in the latest in a string of no-confidence votes for Nifong.
Nifong has lacked both ethical professionalism and competency in prosecuting this case and has done irreparable harm to his credibility. As a result, he is certainly unable to act as a chief legal official in Durham. Moreover, his track record demonstrates that Nifong has not and will not be able to fairly practice the law in the future.
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While we think the proper and full investigation of his conduct should proceed, we also believe that the outcome of that investigation is clear.
Given his actions during the past year and the commentary of his peers in the profession, Mike Nifong can no longer be Durham's district attorney and should be disbarred.