Justice in Durham?
The social disaster that began unfolding more than a year ago in Durham, N.C. after a black woman hired to strip-dance at a Duke University lacrosse team party claimed -- falsely, as it turned out -- she was gang-raped by several white men appears to be moving into the long-term recovery phase.
During state bar disciplinary proceedings Friday, Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong -- already deemed a "rogue prosecutor" by state Attorney General Roy Cooper -- tearfully announced that he was resigning his post. He later submitted a letter to North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley saying his last day on the job would be July 13, though Easley has said he wishes he could remove him sooner.
On Saturday, Nifong was stripped of his law license and banned from ever practicing again. The bar found him guilty of withholding evidence, lying to judges and making prejudicial pretrial statements.
And today, Duke University reached a private financial settlement with the three falsely accused players, whose families face millions of dollars in legal bills:
These young men and their families have been the subject of intense scrutiny that has taken a heavy toll. The Board of Trustees and the President have also determined that it is in the best interests of the Duke community to eliminate the possibility of future litigation and move forward.
The legal proceedings relating to the case are not yet over, though. Nifong as well as the Durham Police Department and other public agencies could still face civil suits, and Nifong may also be subject to criminal contempt charges.
Meanwhile, the players' attorneys have called for an independent agency to investigate what went wrong in this case. That's a good idea. But this case shouldn't be the sole concern for citizens who care about the well-being of Durham's justice system. Nifong spent most of his 30-year legal career working as a prosecutor in the Durham D.A.'s office. What was it about his experience there that allowed him to think he could get away with such egregious misconduct?
The truth eventually prevailed in this case, at least in part because the wrongly accused came from families that had the financial resources to hire excellent defense attorneys. But how many other cases prosecuted by Nifong's office have been tainted by prosecutorial misconduct that wasn't uncovered? How many other innocents have suffered because of the actions of this rogue prosecutor?
What agency will investigate this?
UPDATE: Rather than let Nifong stick around for another month, a Superior Court judge has suspended him immediately.