N.C. Bar Files Charges Against Duke D.A.
Thursday, December 28, 2006; 8:57 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The North Carolina bar filed ethics charges Thursday against the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse sexual assault case, accusing him of saying misleading and inflammatory things to the media about the athletes under suspicion.
The punishment for ethics violations can range from admonishment to disbarment. The complaint could also force District Attorney Mike Nifong off the case by creating a conflict of interest.
"He's got this hanging over his head," said Thomas Metzloff, a Duke law professor and member of the bar's ethics committee for the past 10 years. "It relates so much to his underlying conduct in the case."
Among the four rules of professional conduct that Nifong was accused of violating was a prohibition against making comments "that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused."
In a statement, the bar said it opened a case against Nifong on March 30, a little more than two weeks after a 28-year-old woman hired to perform as a stripper at a lacrosse team party said she was gang-raped.
The ethics charges will be heard by an independent body called the Disciplinary Hearing Commission, made up of both lawyers and non-lawyers. A date for the hearing has not been set.
Nifong did not immediately return a call for comment. But in an October interview with The Associated Press, he said his only regret in handling the case was speaking so often to the media in the investigation's early days.
"Certainly what I was trying to do was to reassure the community, to encourage people with information to come forward," Nifong said. "And that was clearly not the effect."
The bar cited 41 quotations and eight paraphrased statements made to newspaper and TV reporters, saying many of them amounted to "improper commentary about the character, credibility and reputation of the accused" or their alleged unwillingness to cooperate. Most of the comments were in March and April, in the early days of the case.
_ Nifong referred to the lacrosse players as "a bunch of hooligans."
_ He declared: "I am convinced there was a rape, yes, sir."