Prosecutor in Duke Rape Case to Resign

Mike Nifong, the district attorney of Durham County, N.C., says he will resign. A disciplinary panel is still deciding whether Nifong can continue to practice law in the state. He is charged with breaking rules of professional conduct in his conduct of the Duke lacrosse rape case.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

Coming up, wild camels on Walkabout in Australia.

But first, a disciplinary commission of the North Carolina State Bar is expected to begin deliberating the ethics case against Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong today. He was prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse rape case.

Yesterday, Nifong said he will resign as D.A., but the ethics charges could still lead to his disbarment.

NPR's Adam Hochberg joins us now from outside the courthouse in Raleigh. Adam, what should we expect to happen today?

ADAM HOCHBERG: Well, we're thinking that this could be the last day of this hearing. We'd been here almost a week now listening to testimony. Yesterday, Mike Nifong spent almost all day on the witness stand trying to explain his behavior in the case.

But before that, we heard from a variety of other experts who said that, in their opinion, he did almost everything wrong, that he pursued a rape case for months in spite of evidence that strongly suggested there was never any crime.

But today, we expect the disciplinary commission to start deliberating to decide whether he violated any of the professional rules that governed his profession as a lawyer and if so, what his punishment will be.

YDSTIE: Nifong made the surprise announcement yesterday that he is going to resign as D.A. How is that likely to affect the proceedings today?

HOCHBERG: Well, from a procedural standpoint, not much. This hearing never really was about whether he could continue as D.A. In fact, this commission, the State Bar Commission, does not have the authority to remove him as D.A. What they can do is revoke his law license and that question is still on the table.

Even yesterday after he made his tearful resignation announcement, he was back on the witness stand within 10 or 15 minutes. Again having to defend his behavior on the case, he said he made mistakes, but he also said he's not a liar. And that's a response to one of the most serious charges he faces that he lied to the court in pursuing the lacrosse case.

YDSTIE: What's been the reaction to Nifong's resignation?

HOCHBERG: I think it's fair to say a lot of people here are just relieved. Mike Nifong, at one point, he had a good deal of support in the community. He was just reelected district attorney last year. But in the last six months or so, he has just about lost every supporter he had. His campaign manager has turned on him. The governor of North Carolina, who first appointed him D.A. two years ago, now is saying that's one of the biggest mistake he's ever made as governor.

So a lot of people are not unhappy to see him go. And the attorneys for the lacrosse players are being downright dismissive of the tearful resignation announcement yesterday. One of the lawyers just said it's a cynical(ph) ploy to try to win sympathy and try to hold on to his law license.

YDSTIE: Is there any indication of how the commission might rule?

HOCHBERG: I think it's virtually certain that they'll find that he committed, at least, some of the ethical violations he's been charged with. He's admitted on the witness stand to some of the less serious charges. The question, at this point really, is what the punishment will be. It could be anything from a reprimand to disbarment.

And we should say that this body, the North Carolina State Bar, has not taken a hard line on prosecutorial misconduct in the past. They've had two cases of this decade involving murder cases where two innocent were sent to death row. And in those cases, the prosecutors - the punishment for the prosecutors was nothing more severe than a reprimand.

So, we'll see whether they continue to go down that path or if they take this opportunity to make a stronger statement.

YDSTIE: NPR's Adam Hochberg in Raleigh, North Carolina. Thanks, Adam.

HOCHBERG: You're welcome.

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