Nifong and The Next Election

Could this be the face that will haunt North Carolina Democrats?

In light of recent developments, Michael Nifong may be guilty of egregious prosecutorial misconduct in the Duke rape investigation. Already it appears that professionally Nifong is toast, and there is speculation that his malfeasance may not be covered by prosecutorial immunity. In what may be the ultimate irony in this Gothic drama, Nifong himself could wind up being the only "player" who faces a judge and jury.

So what are the implications for North Carolina Democrats? Well, normally there shouldn't be any implications. After all, in normal circumstances the office of District Attorney in Durham isn't something with a great deal of political consequence. But then again, these are not normal circumstances.

The Republicans apparently are done watching from a distance and now they're calculating how all this carnage might be turned to their advantage. Rep. Walter Jones has recently imposed himself in the issue by calling publicly for a federal investigation, and he's asked the Attorney General himself to get involved. It's an open question whether Rep. Jones has the dexterity to handle this bomb without it blowing up in his face, but we'll see.

An article by Wendy McElroy of Fox News gives a few hints at where the Republicans might be headed. First, there is an elaborate explanation of all that Nifong has done wrong, with consistent emphasis on the fact that he's a Democrat, he's a Democrat, he's a Democrat. There's also a long explanation as to how a Supreme Court case called Imbler v. Pachtman could be used to deprive Nifong of prosecutorial immunity and render him eligible for trial (a helpful development that would allow for continuing media coverage through the next election.)

However, there are signs that the Republicans, or at least Fox News, might not be ready for prime time. A large part of what McElroy attempts to do is tie the scandal to Governor Easley. Ms. McElroy asserts that Governor Easley is "responsible for initially appointing fellow-Democrat (sic) to the office of D.A.," which is true enough, but then she goes on to claim that Gov. Easley has not acted to check Nifong because, "Easley's upcoming election will depend on the voter bloc that recently elected Niforg: working-class blacks."

In a tour de force, Fox News succeeds in implying that the Governor should intercede in a local prosecution, which would be highly inappropriate, that he isn't interceding because he's running for election, which is flat wrong, since Easley has announced that he isn't running for anything, and that the fault for all of this misconduct ultimately lies at the feet of.... whom? You guessed it, "working-class blacks."

In a perfect demonstration of what's already so terribly wrong in this case, Fox News serves up a report that starts with flawed preconceptions, moves right along to misinformation, and then finishes up with a heavy dose of racism.

If we've received a glimpse of what's inside the Republican play book, what we're about to see will certainly be ugly, but Democrats needn't be too concerned. Just in the nick of time Rep. Jones grabbed the bomb and threw it in the direction of Anthony Gonzalez... details to follow on Fox News.


Anthony Gonzalez?

...all this time I thought his name was Alberto. :)

Nifong's unprofessional and possibly criminal behavior will do more to damage the reputations of prosecutors in this state than Democrats. My brother is an ADA in NC. I'll have to ask him if there has been any fallout.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Look for the Party of Greed's pit bull

Little Patty McHenry . . . to pile on soon. This is becoming a national cause celebre that will be stretched to damn all lawyers, all black people, all aspects of affirmative action, all applications of Title X, and all lacrosse players (that's my angle!).

Watching this case

I have these reactions:
1. It is a local case, not a national one. The willingness of the defense lawyers to go to the media in an attempt to make it a national case is striking. Every "fact", except a few when Nifong couldn't keep his mouth shut, that the public knows has come from the defense lawyers.

2. The case will be decided by twelve people, either in Durham County or in another venue. Politicizing this case as Walter Jones is doing ensures that justice (whichever way it goes) will never be done and that due process will have been bypassed. If the accuser is telling the truth (and I am not arguing that this is the case), this will mean that justice will have been denied.

3. Walter Jones's intervention in a local case on behalf of well-to-do white athletes is an abuse of his power as a Congressman. Gonzalez's serious consideration of investigating this case now, before trial, should be added to the many impeachable offenses that Gonzalez has committed.

4. Democrats should start making noise about Jones and Gonzalez's actions being another case in which Republicans believe that the politicized federal government knows better than a local elected official, who was re-elected after this controversy began. And Democrats should use Jones's intervention in this matter as a campaign issue in 2008.

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

More reactions

1.a. This case is in Durham and involves defendants from three other states who have a compelling legitimate interest in its outcome. Four states makes it a national case.
1.b. Mike Nifong's going on every national news program to accuse the lacrosse team let the national genie out of the bottle. It cannot be put back in a bottle and that, too, makes it a national case.

2. Mike Nifong bypassed due process months ago. Due process is broken in Durham. The recent admission by B. Meehan that he and Mike Nifong violated the law by withholding DNA evidence is only the most recent example of the numerous ways that due process is broken. Mike Nifong politicized this case months ago in a bid to get elected. A case in which due process has been violated should not make it to a jury even in a case where the defendants are obviously guilty never mind this case where there is so little evidence to support guilt (as in none) and a ton of evidence to support innocence.

3. The Constitutional guarantee of due process and equal protection applies to everyone. It's the Federal government's obligation to intervene when civil rights are being violated. The life circumstance of those people whose rights are being violated is completely irrelevant.

4. The Democrats put Mike Nifong in the position to do what he's doing and continue to enable him to do what he's doing. They should clean their own house before complaining about someone else's house.

Big Development Coming?

Ah come on, you can tell us... I promise, we won't tell anybody.

I'm 56 years old. I moved to North Carolina five years ago. The previous twenty-five years I spent as a resident of Chicago's north shore and before that Wisconsin, Utah and California. I live in Moore County. My Congressman is Howard Coble, my State Sen

Faux News

I think the correct term when referring to Fox News is "tour de farce". The volume in the Durham DA's office started going up the day Kathleen Peterson was killed and hasn't come down since. I seems to me that if anyone was to get involved it would be the AG's office but, IANAL. If all Republicans have to do is stir this teacup let them waste their time. Nifong created this brew but the water was already boiling. He deserves this crap, we don't.

I agree, Greg

It is Nifong's problem and we shouldn't make it our own.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Volume went up with Peterson case

Yep. It seems that there are a lot of folks who don't like you prosecuting rich white people for their alleged crimes, and convicting them. They're appalled at what justice looks like. They should experience the justice system from the situation of being poor, black, or both.

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

I don't think anyone here would say

that being poor, black or both gives a person an advantage in our criminal justice system. However, we should not seek justice for one person by denying it to another....or three, regardless of whether they are rich and white or poor and black.

Nifong's actions suspiciously mimic prosecutorial misconduct. If this is charged and the case winds up being dropped or dismissed because of his incompetence or worse, not one person involved in this case will experience justice. The three accused have no recourse and the accuser will suffer even more. There will be many who cast her story into greater doubt and it will become more difficult to find any justice for her.

If Nifong truly believed something happened to her and allowed a real investigation instead of directing the investigation only toward team members, they might have actually found the person/persons who attacked this woman. Now, there is real doubt as to whether anything happened to her at all.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.


I haven't a clue what Nifong has or has not investigated because every story that I hear is attributed to the defense attorneys. All Nifong has done so far is take the case to the grand jury and muck up his statements to a national press that suddenly hopped on this with a bias in support of the Duke students. There is a certain "circling the wagons" tone about the defense's behavior. Why are they trying to have the case tried in the media?

It is the defense lawyers, not Nifong, who are trying to discredit an investigation even before the results of the investigation are known. Fortunately, it seems to me, Nifong has learned his lesson and has stopped making public statements, which should have been his policy from the beginning.

There is real doubt whether anything happened at all because that has been the defense lawyers' strategy from the beginning - sow doubt, discredit the accuser, discredit the district attorney, nationalize the media coverage, build sympathy so that there is nowhere in the country that a jury will be untainted.

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

The defense stands convicted

If there were no truth to the recent information that has made it into the press, they wouldn't have been in court last week with Nifong and the head of the lab trying to explain themselves. Nifong and the head of the lab (sorry, forgot his name) aren't denying the facts that have been leaked and those facts are pretty damning for Nifong. Facts are facts whether they are leaked from the lab, the defense or Nifong.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.


I can tell you that my Mom, Dad, and sister in rural Pennsylvania know more and hear more about this than I do. I don't think it is a coincidence that this story is getting play in a rural area where racism is not some far distant memory.

I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for. ~ Thornton Wilder

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

It is amaizing

what rich people can do with good attorneys. Just look what good it did O.J. These defense attorneys are the best money can buy, and they are trying the case in the press because they are afraid of letting it go to trial. Nifong is saying nothing to the press, so all we are hearing about is the defense attorney's slanted view of things.

A Durham grand jury passed the indictments - it wasn't Nifong's decision alone. You just never know what a Durham trial jury might do when they hear both sides of the story. That's why the defense attorney's are dragging Nifong through the mud every chance they get.

The Durham DA's office prosecutes 50,000 cases per year, so Nifong's kind of busy. If prosecutorial misconduct was rampant in Durham, don't you think there would be a few more examples than this one case?


the too busy to do things right. I think Scooter Libby is trying that defense.

There's no slant to what is out there right now. It's pretty clear-cut. Nifong and the lab both knew about (Nifong lied and denied knowing at first) that there was evidence from the DNA testing the lab/Nifong had not turned over to the defense. It is evidence that would and will weaken Nifong's case. Nothing slanted about it. It's now public after the recent hearing. Nifong was bound by law to turn that information over and his excuse that "they didn't ask for it specifically" is crap. This isn't something that is leaked. This is testimony by Nifong in court. Of course, his initial lie wasn't under oath but it does damage his credibility in my eyes.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Thanks for the good information and opinions

I've been pretty cynical about the press coverage on this issue--ten years of poor press coverage of Democrats and all that. But I think that maybe I took this story with a grain or two of salt too many.

If Nifong did do something wrong, Democrats should be among the first to cut him loose. But he deserves the same due process that we ask him to show others. And it is kind of strange for a Durham Democratic DA to grandstand for an election. Was there someone running against him in a primary?

The serious question for Democrats in this is how do we ensure that Democratic strongholds, like Durham, do not become poster children for shady dealings or incompetence. What must progressives do to ensure that our strongholds reflect the best of Democratic values? And what is going on in Durham that makes situations like this possible, or am I painting with too broad a brush?

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

You are exactly right

He deserves due process. I also want to stress that my opinions are just that and don't carry any more weight than anyone else's and while I might have already decided Nifong is an idiot, it doesn't make him so.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

History of Mike Nifong

Mike Nifong had been in the DA's office up until about 10 years ago until he got cancer. After a period for treatment and recovery, he was sent to traffic court as a "retirement in place".

In approximately March '05 Gov. Easley appointed Nifong to replace former DA Hardin who Easley appointed as a judge. Easley is directly responsible for Nifong being able to do what he is doing.

In the May '06 Dem primary Nifong was faced with running against Freda Black (a white woman) and Keith Bishop (a black man). Black was a well-known former Durham ADA who had just successfully prosecuted Michael Peterson in an infamous local murder case. (The reason she was a "former" ADA is that one of Nifong's first actions after being appointed was to vindictively fire Black.) Bishop had the endorsement of The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People which is an influential political group in Durham and is generally recognized as the "kingmaker".

Nifong's primary campaign contributions had dried up and he had loaned his campaign $30,000 of his own money. He jumped on the publicity offered by this case and rode it to a primary victory by obtaining the indictments of Finnerty and Seligman on what are now known to be false pretenses (e.g. the medical report did not show anything consistent with the violent rape as described, the third ID was rigged so ensure she would only identify a lax team member, etc., etc.).

Durham is already a poster child for shady dealings and incompetence. Locals have known about it for years. Mike Nifong has ensured that the entire nation now knows about it. And it's an entirely Dem town. Maybe the Dems could clean it up.

Nifong doesn't need to be a liability for Dems

Nifong will only become a liability for Democrats
in NC if they sit back and let Republicans be the
ones who are willing to step in. Nationally, this
has not been the case. K.C. Johnson, the most
prominent blogger on this case, is a Yellow Dog
Dem. Susan Estrich has written 3 pieces on this
case: the first supportive, and the last calling
for a special prosecutor to be appointed. Though
I don't know his political affiliation, James
Coleman, an African American Duke law professor,
and amember of the Actual Innocence Commission
(created to prevent the kind of injustice that
wrongly sent Allen Gell to death row)called for
a special prosecutor months ago, when it became
public knowledge that Nifong had ordered the DPD
to ignore their own procedures during the
identification process. (These procedures had been
developed based on recommendations from the Actual
Innocence Commission and had been designed to
prevent contaminated procedures that science tells
us are likely to result in false identifications.)

In fact, the conduct of Mike Nifong presents a
perfect opportunity for NC Democrats to shine.
Protecting the rights of the accused has typicallyt
been a Democratic issue, not a Republican one. When
inadequate protections exist for the accused, it is
African Americans who typically suffer the most. NC
is far behind other states in these protections. Inf
fact, about the only protection we have resulted from the
wrongful conviction of Allen Gell, and requires
prosecutors to turn over ALL evidence, every last
stitch of it to the defense. The defense is not
supposed to have to fight for it. (This was the
problem when the DNA lab director, Meehan,
testified under oath that he and Nifong had
agreed to withhold evidence from the report
given to the defense.) Other than that law, NC
justice allows a prosecutor to skip a probably
cause hearing and go straight to a grand jury for
indictment. GJ proceedings are not recorded in any
way in NC, so there is no record of whether the
facts on which the grand jury convicted were
presented accurately. The DA is not required to
present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury.
Being indicted is not benign. You had better hope
that you are filthy rich if you are indicted
wrongly, or you will face bankruptcy or be at
the mercy of a public defender as
you try to stand against the state prosecutorial
juggernaut. NC is the only state in the country
that gives a prosecutor de facto control of
which judge hears the case, since judges rotate,
and the prosecutor controls the calendar. S/he
can conveniently schedule the trial in front of
a pro-prosecution judge, and can punish a judge
that has been pro-defense by giving her only the
nickel and dime cases. Any human being can lose
perspective, including a prosecutor. In NC, the
only way a special prosecutor can be appointed is
if the prosecutor him/herself asks for one. No one
who might be more objective--say the attorney
general, is given the authority to step in.

NC Dems will shine if they stick to their
principles, and do not simply back up every
person who calls him/herself a Democrat regardless
of that person's conduct. Current NC justice is
backwoods justice, and every North Carolinian
should be ashamed of it, afraid of it, and committed
to working to make our laws a sterling example to the
rest of the country, not a laughingstock.


Thanks for this review of the issues involved. It was very helpful not only as a background regarding Nifong, but the glimpse it affords of a larger system plagued with dysfunction. I do wish that this was a problem peculiar only to North Carolina.

I once was the foreman of a jury on a criminal case in Chicago. More than the guilt or innocence of the person accused, or even the details of the case itself, my most vivid impression of that experience was how much of an underdog a defendant is in our system of justice if that defendant has no money.

Finally I was less outraged by the crime that the accused had committed then the process that lead to his conviction. I had every reason to believe that the accused was guilty, and the jury agreed with my opinion. However, all of us, to a man and woman, walked out of the court room deflated by the experience.

I'm 56 years old. I moved to North Carolina five years ago. The previous twenty-five years I spent as a resident of Chicago's north shore and before that Wisconsin, Utah and California. I live in Moore County. My Congressman is Howard Coble, my State Sen