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The county district attorney in the Duke University rape case — who was called a "rogue prosecutor" by North Carolina's attorney general — faces disbarment when he answers to ethics charges beginning today over his questionable prosecution of three lacrosse players.
Durham County District Attorney Michael B. Nifong is charged by the North Carolina State Bar Association with "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" in public comments about the case, which he "knew or reasonably should have known would have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing" the investigation.
In a complaint, the bar association said Mr. Nifong made "false statements of material fact or law" to the court regarding his case against Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, N.Y.; Reade W. Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J.; and David F. Evans, 24, of Bethesda, and failed to make a "timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to him that tends to negate the guilt of the accused."
Charges against the three have been dismissed.
The complaint accuses Mr. Nifong of withholding DNA evidence from defense attorneys, saying he was required by law to "make a reasonably diligent effort to comply with a legally proper discovery request ... to the defense of all evidence or information known to him that tends to negate the guilt of the accused."
The presiding Superior Court judge in the Duke case, W. Ormond Smith III, also has expressed concern about Mr. Nifong's conduct and said in court papers last week he also could discipline the district attorney, including jailing him for contempt.
Questions by the state bar and Judge Smith about Mr. Nifong's handling of the DNA evidence surfaced in December after his office arranged for tests through a private lab, DNA Security Inc. During a Dec. 15 pretrial hearing, DNA Security Director Brian Meehan said he shared tests results with Mr. Nifong, but a summary report given to the defense did not contain information that the Duke players' samples did not match those taken from the purported victim.
Mr. Meehan told the court the decision not to release the material was "an intentional limitation" at which he and Mr. Nifong arrived. It was six months after the test results had been complete before Mr. Nifong informed defense attorneys about the results.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped all charges against the former Duke players, saying special prosecutors concluded the athletes were victims of a "tragic rush to accuse" by an overreaching district attorney.
Mr. Cooper said special prosecutors James Coman and Mary D. Winstead found that no attack had occurred and the accuser, Crystal Gail Mangum, who told Durham police she was raped at an off-campus house during a team party, was not credible.
Ms. Mangum, who is black, was hired as a stripper to dance for 40 Duke lacrosse players at a house where some of them lived. She said the three white players beat, choked and sexually assaulted her.
The state bar commission can dismiss the Nifong complaint, issue a letter of warning or impose an admonition, reprimand or censure. It can also suspend his license for up to five years or disbar him.
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