Former Duke lacrosse case prosecutor faces more ethics charges

DURHAM, N.C. (U-WIRE) — The North Carolina State Bar made public Tuesday additional ethics complaints against Durham, N.C., District Attorney Mike Nifong.

The district attorney is now being investigated for withholding exculpatory evidence and making false statements to judges and defense attorneys in the ongoing Duke University lacrosse case.

In December, the bar released a complaint against Nifong for mishandling pre-trial publicity by making extrajudicial comments, which heightened public condemnation of the accused.

“While different, the prior charges are just as serious,” said Duke law professor Tom Metzloff.

The new charges stem from a Dec. 15 hearing, at which Brian Meehan, director of the DNA Security Lab in Burlington, N.C., admitted to collaborating with Nifong in withholding the names of the lacrosse players that DNA testing excluded from matching genetic material found in the body and underwear of the alleged victim after she said she was raped on March 13.

Nifong told the bar’s Grievance Committee that he did not release the names and DNA samples of the players in order to protect their privacy.

Though Nifong faces the same range of punishment for the new charges, if he is found guilty on all counts he might face more severe penalties, Metzloff said.

“It increases the possibility that any sanctions that are given will be more serious, more toward the upper end of the range of possibilities,” Metzloff said. “There is a great likelihood that if the charges are proven, we are looking at more serious charges, such as a sanction or disbarment.”

According to the bar’s report, Nifong told the court that he gave the defense all of the state’s evidence.

“The State is not aware of any additional material or information which may be exculpatory in nature with respect to the Defendant,” the report credited Nifong as stating.

In May, he also told the court that he had given the defense the full discovery file, saying, “I’ve turned over everything I have.”

In addition to allegations that Nifong withheld the names of those players exonerated by the DNA testing, the bar also stated that Nifong failed to disclose any record of Meehan’s statements made during their meetings.

At a hearing before the Grievance Committee on Tuesday morning, Nifong was granted an extension to answer the original complaint. It is unlikely that his case will go to trial on May 11 as initially planned, said Tom Lunsford, executive director of the North Carolina State Bar.

“I believe it has to do with the schedules with those persons who are going to be participating, particularly the lawyers,” Lunsford said. “(It is) primarily a scheduling problem for Mr. Nifong.”

Nifong and his spokesperson were not available to comment to The Chronicle.

Earlier this month, the district attorney recused himself from the case, handing it over to the North Carolina attorney general’s office.

The next pre-trial hearing is set for Feb. 5, when defense attorneys said they hope to win the motion to suppress the identification procedures used in the investigation.