Monday, June 18, 2007

The Duke Lacrosse case – no winners here

The Duke lacrosse case took its last major turn over the weekend with first the resignation of Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, followed late Saturday by Mike Nifong's inevitable disbarment – the end of his career. Justice being served – no doubt whatsoever, but this was an example where everyone associated with the headline grabbing sports related story lost, the women who cried rape, the Duke lacrosse team, Duke University but even scarier the Justice system. If the parents of the accused Duke lacrosse players hadn’t had the financial wherewithal to fight what they believed was the most important fight of their children’s lives, the end result may have been a great deal troublesome than it was – and at the center of what would have been one of the biggest miscarriages of justices in history, Mike Nifong who thankfully will no longer have the opportunity to practice his own unique brand of American Justice.

Late Saturday afternoon moments after the Durham District Attorney ruled Nifong had had intentionally and repeatedly lied and cheated as he prosecuted three former lacrosse players on rape charges, Nifong surrendered his license to practice law.

"It's been truly a fiasco," said chairman Lane Williamson in his ruling.

Nifong who hasn’t spoken since the life he knew ended Saturday night has had little to say since. He did however try to stem the tide, and save his license to practice law by offering his resignation Friday evening, where Nifong did have a great deal of say about his actions.

"It has become increasingly apparent during the course of this week, in some ways that it may not have been before, that my presence as the district attorney in Durham is not furthering the cause of justice," Nifong said. "It is not fair that the people of my community to be representing by someone who is not held in high esteem by either the members of the community or members of the profession.

"It does not contribute to the cause of justice in Durham for me to serve as the sitting district attorney for every time I walk into the courtroom [there are] people pointing a finger at me and saying there's the guy in the Duke Lacrosse case."

Earlier Friday in a drama that played out on national TV, Nifong told a packed courtroom he had made several mistakes in how he had handled the Duke lacrosse case.

"In this case, I was trying to do the right thing," Nifong said. "Much of the criticism that has been directed at me in this case is justified. The allegations, however, that I am a liar is not justified."

Nifong also apologized for how his actions affected the players, their families and Durham.

"To the extent that my actions have caused pain to the Finnertys, Seligmanns and Evanses, I apologize," Nifong said. "To the extent that my actions have brought disrespect, disrepute to the Bar, to my community, I apologize."

At the height of the story, everyone from the Black Panthers, to Rev. Jesse Jackson and that bastion of “truth” Al Sharpton visited the Durham area denouncing the accused – three white upper class Duke University male athletes accused of raping an African-American female exotic dancer. From day one as the timeline shows, this was a case made for a public official hungry for public attention. Nifong appointed as a DA in Durham County where Duke University is located was in the process of facing two challengers in the local Democrat primary at the time Nifong began his personal pursuit of the three white Duke athletes. Nifong won the primary and November’s election, but Saturday paid the ultimate price – losing whatever respect he had left.

March 14, 2006 -- Woman reports rape: Police find an apparently intoxicated woman in a car at the Kroger supermarket on Hillsborough Road in Durham about 1:30 a.m. The impaired woman is first taken to Durham Access for involuntary commitment, then to Duke Hospital, where she eventually says that she has been raped.

March 23 -- DNA samples taken: Durham police take DNA samples from 46 members of the Duke University lacrosse team. A search warrant says Durham police are investigating a report of a sexual assault, beating and robbery of one of two women who danced at a party March 13. A Duke official says the house where the party occurred, at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., was home to three members of the lacrosse team.

March 24 -- N&O interviews woman: The News & Observer interviews Crystal Gail Mangum, named in the police report as making the allegation of rape. She says she is an N.C. Central University student who works for an escort service. She says she thought she was hired to dance for a small party. Mangum, who is black, says she and another dancer of mixed racial heritage were the targets of racial slurs at the party.

April 5 -- Coach resigns; season canceled: Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler resigns. University President Richard Brodhead cancels the lacrosse season.

April 10 -- Test results: The state crime lab delivers results of DNA tests on 46 members of lacrosse team to District Attorney Mike Nifong. Defense attorneys publicize the reports that show no DNA from players was found on Mangum. Nifong says he still believes a rape occurred.

April 12 -- Vow at candidates' forum: At a candidates' forum, Nifong, who would go on to win the election for district attorney, vows, "I am not going to allow Durham's view, in the minds of the world, to be a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black girl in Durham."

April 18 -- Indictments: In pre-dawn hours, lacrosse players Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty appear before a magistrate and are charged with first-degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense, and kidnapping. A month later, a grand jury indicts Dave Evans, who was a lacrosse team co-captain.

June 23 -- Report shows inconsistent statements: A defense attorney discloses documents showing inconsistent statements by Mangum. The report adds ammunition for an escalating attack on Nifong's case, including criticism of a series of lineups that the defense says violated procedures.

Dec. 15 -- Test results withheld: Brian Meehan, the head of a private DNA laboratory, testifies that he and Nifong agreed in the spring not to report DNA results favorable to the accused. He said that his lab found DNA from unidentified men in the underwear and body of the accuser.

Dec. 22 -- Rape charges dismissed: Nifong dismisses the rape charges, citing a new statement from Mangum that she could not be certain she was "penetrated by a male sex organ." Seligmann, Evans and Finnerty still face charges of first-degree sexual offense and first-degree kidnapping.

Dec. 28 -- Ethics accusations: The N.C. State Bar accuses Nifong of violating ethics rules during the numerous media interviews he gave shortly after the rape allegations became public.

Jan. 13, 2007 -- State prosecutors take over: Attorney General Roy Cooper, responding to a Jan. 12 request from Nifong, says he will take over the case.

April 11 -- 'Innocent' -- all charges dropped: Cooper says he is dismissing all remaining charges against the former players. He declares them "innocent" and accuses Nifong of overreaching.

April 27 -- Attorney general says Mangum 'not credible': According to a report released by the state Attorney General's Office, Crystal Gail Mangum is not a credible witness.

June 12-13 -- Nifong hearing: Nifong is brought in front of the N.C. State Bar in a trial-like proceeding on ethical and professional misconduct charges that could cost him his law license. During the proceedings, an investigator testifies that Nifong expressed concern over the lack of evidence.

June 15 -- Nifong says he'll resign: A tearful Mike Nifong acknowledges he made mistakes during the lacrosse case and announces that no matter how the state disciplinary panel rules on the charges against him, he will resign as district attorney for Durham.

June 16 -- Nifong disbarred: The State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Commission finds Nifong broke numerous rules of professional conduct and revokes his license to practice law in North Carolina.

When Mike Nifong’s life as he knew it ended Saturday, there wasn’t much happiness around the lives he had almost ruined. When the legal bills were finally paid for the three Duke lacrosse players – the bills totaled more than $3 million.

"We take no joy in this proceeding," said David Evans, father of Dave Evans.

"There are no winners in this," said Kevin Finnerty, Collin's father."Why, why did we get to the place we got?" Williamson asked. "At the root of it is self-deception arising out of self-interest. ... His self-interest collided with a very volatile mix of race, sex and class, a situation which if it were a plot in a John Grisham novel would be considered to be too contrived."

That is one of the easiest questions to answer. Mike Nifong’s entire professional career, the last 28 years of his life was spent as a Durham prosecutor. He had always been working for the County trying to put the ‘bad guys’ in jail. Moving his way through the system finally with a shot at the top Nifong saw the opportunity as a once in a lifetime chance to move up the ladder. Did political gain serve as Nifong’s motivation? An obvious answer, but one only Mike Nifong can answer.

"The fact that we have found dishonesty and misconduct, requires us to enter the most severe sanction that we can enter," Willliamson said.

"Even today," Williamson said, "one must say, in the face of a declaration of innocence by the North Carolina attorney general, the defendant [Nifong] still believes the facts to be one way. The world now knows that is not the case."

The classic pun – in for a penny, in for a pound are words – is a saying that will haunt Mike Nifong has he lives out his life.

"I would be surprised if the saga of Mike Nifong is over," said Joseph B. Cheshire V, one of the defense lawyers. "His continued efforts to smear the members of the Duke lacrosse team, which were recognized by the panel, did not endear him to the players families or anyone he hurt in this."

"You cut your sheet and hang yourself to be in control of your own destiny."

Duke ranked number one last year (2006) in NCAA preseason lacrosse rankings saw their coach resign and experienced what might have been a championship season lost when the school felt they had no choice but to suspend the team for the 2006 lacrosse season. Was that the right decision at the time? Nifong had created a firestorm and there was a real possibility if the 2006 Duke lacrosse season had moved forward the players would have been in harms way. Duke lost the 2007 NCAA lacrosse championship game to John Hopkins 13-12 and the NCAA made the right decision in giving back the entire 2006 Duke lacrosse team a year of eligibility. But for many on the Duke campus this was truly a no-win situation. Hall of Fame basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski was silent throughout the saga, and remains quiet. Given that Coach K didn’t have much to say when the story was front and center it makes perfect sense Mike Krzyzewski remains simply another Duke coach.

Duke’s administration was also in a no-win situation when the story first broke almost 15 months ago. A majority of Duke’s student population is white from affluent families. The demographics of Duke University is what it is and what initially happened became the perfect storm for the Duke administration. The school’s image, the athletic department image playing itself out against Durham County. Call it what it was – worlds colliding.

Privileged athletes who hired strippers. A hard-drinking tradition harmful to students and town-gown relations. A campus sometimes divided by racial and sexual politics.

"Their image and reputation have been tarnished, but I don't know how badly," said Christopher Simpson, CEO of higher education marketing firm SimpsonScarborough. "I don't think it's fatal by any stretch."

"It's the loss of energy for a year, it's the distraction; it has taken up people's time," Paul Haagen, a law professor and chairman of Duke's Academic Council said. "But Duke is an institution with enormous momentum. Will the effects be long-lasting? I would think not at all."

"If anything, the public sentiment has shifted dramatically to Duke's favor with tremendous compassion for the lacrosse team," said Sheldon Steinbach, former vice president and general counsel at the American Council on Education, now a higher education legal affairs expert with a Washington law firm. "I think the public at large views this as a monumental injustice."

Understanding and accepting that no one won in this case is important in moving forward. But there are a number of important questions that need to be asked – what if the parents of the three accused athletes hadn’t had the financial resources to fight the battle they believed in would the three young men be in jail today? And what about the next time an African-American woman who is an exotic dancer finds herself in a situation where she’s is being taken advantage of, will her pleas be heard? Shame on Mike Nifong for the world he has helped tear apart – a world where there is no justice.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited (all quotes): The Raleigh News & Observer

Labels: , , , ,