An editorial roundup

The Duke Lacrosse story is, finally, over.

A week-long disciplinary hearing last week found that Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong violated multiple ethics rules in his prosecution of rape charges against three Duke Lacrosse players last year. Nifong was stripped of his law license Saturday afternoon, but not before Nifong announced his intent to resign from office.

Nifong had sought rape charges against David Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann in connection with a March 2006 house party where an exotic dancer claimed she had been raped. DNA evidence later proved that the three had not raped her, yet Nifong continued with the case, withholding evidence and other information from defense lawyers. In December, Nifong removed himself from the case, handing it over to Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Cooper announced in April that the three players were innocent of all charges and said the case was the example of rogue prosecution.

Nifong’s troubles may just be beginning. Lawyers representing the three Duke Lacrosse players are expected to announce plans soon to seek both criminal and civil penalties against Nifong. The players accumulated more than $3 million in legal bills.

Several media outlets that commented on Nifong’s downfall during and following the trial said it was an example of political ambition getting in the way of the judicial system. Nifong, appointed by Gov. Mike Easley to the district attorney position, was in the midst of the Democratic primary election when the Duke lacrosse case began. Nifong would win the primary and the general election.

Here is what some newspapers had to say about Nifong and his disbarment:

The News and Observer, Raleigh (June 18) – One must ask, in all this, what might have happened if these young men had not had access to legal talent the quality of Wake Smith, Joe Cheshire and the other defense attorneys? Many others would not have, and people who were innocent would have been prosecuted and possibly convicted. That’s something, frankly, that attorneys on all sides in North Carolina ought to be talking about. One district attorney said of the outcome of Nifong’s case before the Bar that “the system worked.” Maybe it worked regarding disciplinary action, but for months it didn’t work properly at all.

The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte (June 16) – It’s far too convenient for Mr. Nifong to acknowledge now that he can’t serve the people of Durham effectively. That admission comes as he faced stinging condemnation this week during an N.C. State Bar ethics hearing over his handling of rape charges against Duke University lacrosse players.

The Shelby Star, Shelby (June 15) – There are larger issues that may or may not be resolved by this trial. All too many prosecutors see their job as getting convictions — scalps on their belt — rather than doing justice, sometimes ruining the lives of innocent people. Too many people serving on juries are inclined to believe prosecutors even in the face of reasonable doubt. And all too many in our society, including many in the media, are eager to pounce on any story that involves a possible white-on-black crime.