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And now next the complaint against the prosecutor who brought sexual assault charges against three members of the Duke University lacrosse team moved forward yesterday. A disciplinary committee of the North Carolina State Bar refused to dismiss proceedings against District Attorney Mike Nifong in Durham. Mr. Nifong could be disbarred for his conduct during the rape prosecution.
Earlier this week, North Carolina's attorney general said there was no evidence of the crime and dropped all charges against the Duke players. NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.
ADAM HOCHBERG: Now that the former members of Duke's lacrosse team have cleared their names, the man who prosecuted them is trying to save his career.
We're here this afternoon in the case of North Carolina State Bar against Michael B. Nifong, the defendant, 06D8C35(ph).
HOCHBERG: District Attorney Mike Nifong, a career prosecutor, was in a new role as defendant in an ethics hearing before our committee of the North Carolina State Bar. With his future as a lawyer hanging in the balance, he sat quietly, as other attorneys argued the most serious charge against him - that he withheld DNA evidence, which supported the lacrosse players' claims of innocence.
Katherine Jean, a lawyer for the bar, criticized Nifong for waiting months before sharing those DNA results with the defense team.
Ms. KATHERINE JEAN (Lawyer, North Carolina State Bar): This is a DNA evidence that the district attorney has in his possession that certainly could be exculpatory. And yet, if this hasn't come to life through the extraordinarily diligent efforts of the defense counsel in the criminal cases, who knows, these men might have pled guilty, never knowing that the DNA evidence was exculpatory of that. It's a scary concept.
HOCHBERG: Nifong's lawyer urged the panel to dismiss the ethics charge. Dudley Witt said while the DNA findings may not have been released as quickly as defense lawyers want it, Nifong did eventually turn them over, in plenty of time before the player's trial was scheduled to start.
Mr. DUDLEY WITT (Mike Nifong's Defense Lawyer): Prosecutors' offices have limited resources in the state of North Carolina. There are a lot of trials going on. There were high-profile trials that are going on in Durham County. You only have so many employees that can help keep track of moving the documents along.
HOCHBERG: But that argument failed to sway the discipline committee, which deliberated just 20 minutes before denying Nifong's request to dismiss the ethics charge. That means he'll face trial June 12, both on the allegations of withholding evidence and on other ethical accusations related to the Duke lacrosse case, including charges he lied in court and made inflammatory statements about the athletes.
Nifong said nothing during yesterday's hearing and spoke only briefly to reporters afterward.
Mr. MICHAEL B. NIFONG (District Attorney, North Carolina): I really don't want to make any comments outside the courtroom. You'll have an opportunity to hear the things that I have to say inside the courtroom only during the hearing in June.
HOCHBERG: Legal scholars predict that June hearing will be difficult for Nifong. University of North Carolina law professor Joseph Kennedy says state and federal law compels prosecutors to release test results and other evidence, especially if it supports the defendant's innocence.
Professor JOSEPH KENNEDY (Law, University of North Carolina): He's accused not just of committing some very serious ethical violations in a very serious criminal matter. He's accused of then lying about those violations, essentially in order to cover them up. And if those allegations are true, and they don't justify disbarment, then I don't know what does.
HOCHBERG: Since the attorney general dismissed the sexual assault case this week, pressure has been building for Nifong to resign as district attorney. But his lawyers said yesterday, he has every intention of staying on the job. Nifong's been a public servant all his life, his attorney said. And he still wants to serve the people.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News.
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