Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Heights of Hypocrisy

La Shawn Barber has discovered what she correctly describes as "jaw-dropping" information: in response to a voter information form, Mike Nifong listed as among his favorite novels To Kill a Mockingbird. The book revolves around a courageous Southern lawyer who defends an innocent man railroaded on a rape charge in an atmopshere inflamed by racial passions.

As Jason Whitlock noticed months ago, the Duke lacrosse case is a real-life version of To Kill a Mockingbird. How, then, to explain Nifong's attraction to the story? It would seem, unlike most who read the Harper Lee novel, Nifong saw little of himself in Atticus Finch, the defense attorney who holds sacred the law and legal procedures. Instead, the Durham D.A. seems to have been attracted to Mr. Gilmer, the prosecutor who played to the basest prejudices of his community and who sought not justice but a conviction at all costs.

Nifong has some other "jaw-dropping" comments in the voter guide. He lists four basic qualifications for a district attorney:
  • First, the District Attorney's Office must be, and must be perceived as, a place of unquestioned integrity.
  • Second, that office must be, and must be perceived as, a place of absolute fairness.
  • Third, that office must be, and must be perceived as, a place of demonstrated competence.
  • The mission of the District Attorney's Office is not simply to obtain convictions: it is to achieve justice, and to prevent injustice.
These claims are breathtaking in light of Nifong's performance over the past six months. This is a man who has violated provision after provision of the state bar's ethics code; whose sense of "fairness" was so skewed that he refused to meet with defense attorneys to consider exculpatory evidence; whose competence is so dubious that we hear almost daily revelations about what wasn't investigated in this case; and whose name has become a national symbol for promoting injustice.

Indeed, yesterday featured another searing critique of Nifong on all four of these grounds, penned by Wendy McElroy. Her viewing of Nifong's actions prompted the question, "Do the principles of justice still operate in American courtrooms?" The answer, she has discovered, is no, and as a result the case "has become a litmus test for the American justice system," with Nifong "acting with willful disregard for both the evidence in the case and the Constitutional rights of the accused. In this case, I believe the legal system is the enemy of justice...and nakedly so." McElroy then pointedly details the prosecutor's myriad procedurally dubious actions over recent months. In describing Nifong's refusal to consider Reade Seligmann's airtight alibi, she notes,
The assumption that a defendant is 'innocent until proven guilty' has been reversed. Seligmann is assumed to be guilty. But more than this. It is as though Seligmann is not allowed to prove his innocence no matter how much evidence he produces.
McElroy provides a useful history lesson that appears to have been lost by most of Nifong's enablers. "The purpose of spelling out due process," she notes, "was not primarily to protect a defendant against his or her accuser. Their inclusion in the Constitution was meant to protect defendants against the power of an abusive court — that is, against an abuse of government."

"As long as Nifong is the face of government," McElroy concludes, "I find no reason for public confidence." I suspect that Harper Lee would share the sentiment.

6 comments:

Mr. Map said...

Well said...

Anonymous said...

Of course Nifong sees himself as a prosecutor. He is a prosecutor, after all. He probably liked the book so much, he is trying to make it come to life.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Wendy McElroy is a very talented writer and thinker, and it was her writings early in this case that helped to inspire me to write about it. (In fact, early on, she had written me about doing a book together on this subject, but we realized we had neither the time nor resources to put anything together that a publisher would be willing to print.)

How Nifong's actions have so contrasted with his actions tell me that this guy KNOWS what he is doing. He fully understands just how his actions have violated ethical standards and, yes, even the law. The only thing that will "rescue" him will be a conviction, so he pushes on in the same direction.

William L. Anderson

Anonymous said...

A desperate prosecutor is a dangerous prosecutor. Informed citizens need to contact the Justice Department (Mr. Gonzales), the governor (Mr. Easley), the head of CBS News (Mr. McManus), et al.

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable, the SOB does have some redeeming social value. Mickey Mantle was his childhood hero. He's bad, just not all bad.