Friday, September 22, 2006

Nifong's Political Fallout

[Welcome Instapundit readers. This blog is updated daily; among its recent items, this post on the severe weaknesses of the state's medical case, and this one on the bizarre ideas of Duke's anti-lacrosse faculty members.]

Over the past six months, Mike Nifong’s record has exposed the fragility of North Carolina’s legal institutions. His procedural misconduct, by this point, is common knowledge:

  • The fraudulent March 23 notion relied on a false claim (the players used first-name aliases) and withheld from the court that the accuser had failed to identify any suspects in a photo lineup already conducted by police.
  • The late March p.r. blitz served the D.A.’s political interests at the expense of his obligations under the bar’s ethics code.
  • Nifong ordered police to violate in multiple ways their own procedures for lineups in order to get someone to indict before the May 2 primary vote.
  • He ignored ethics code requirements to consider exculpatory evidence by refusing to look at Reade Seligmann’s alibi evidence, which included, among other items, a video of Seligmann at an ATM machine more than a mile away at the time of the alleged crime.

All the while, however, Nifong has suffered no official retribution, as Durham judges, Governor Easley, Attorney General Cooper, and the state bar have failed to rein him in. Their failure to require Nifong to act in accordance with North Carolina's laws and its state bar's ethics code has led many legal scholars to wonder if the Durham district attorney, in fact, represents a mainstream version of North Carolina justice. Indeed, Duke Law School professor Erwin Chemerinsky recently noted that he was unaware of any case in the past 15-20 years where this extent of procedurally irregular behavior was widely known by the public at this stage of the process.

Failure by public officials and the bar assocation to hold Nifong accountable for his improper legal and ethical conduct has enabled him to subvert groups that citizens count on to advocate for fairness and justice. An example of this pattern came in Nifong's conduct at an April 11 forum held on the campus of North Carolina Central University. The day before, defense attorneys revealed that DNA evidence which Nifong had promised “will immediately rule out any innocent persons” had matched no lacrosse players. Facing an overwhelmingly African-American audience, the constituency that would make or break his primary campaign, the district attorney stated, “I hope you will understand that my presence here means that this case is not going away.”

Nifong has claimed a commitment that “the District Attorney’s Office must be, and must be perceived as, a place of unquestioned integrity.” By promising, at what amounted to a campaign appearance, to continue the case regardless of evidence or his earlier affirmation to the court about DNA, the D.A. violated his own written standards.

The NCCU forum also launched the peculiar relationship between Nifong and Victoria Peterson. Before spring 2006, Peterson was best known for her losing city council campaigns, her support for convicted murderer Michael (no relation) Peterson, and her extreme homophobia. In 2003, Peterson opposed “health benefits for sodomites” on the grounds that “many of them are infected with diseases, and their lifestyles are very, very dangerous,” and dismissed the need for statewide anti-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians on the grounds that they “come to work dressed one day looking like a female and two weeks later looking like a male.”

At the NCCU forum, Peterson explained away the DNA tests as the result of Duke University hospital having “tampered with” the sample; she demanded that the district attorney arrest three lacrosse players. A few weeks later, Peterson welcomed to Durham the head of a hate group, the New Black Panthers, whose members, among other things, leveled a death threat against Reade Seligmann that Nifong declined to condemn. As Nifong’s electoral base atrophied, however, he and Peterson entered into a marriage of convenience. He would strengthen his position with those motivated by appeals to race and class prejudice; she would get the ear of the county’s top law enforcement official. In August, the district attorney announced that he was “very pleased” that Peterson had agreed to found and co-chair his citizens’ committee, a development that “made me feel good.”

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In the last 20 years, North Carolina Democrats have elected to the Senate two liberals, John Edwards and Terry Sanford, both of whom narrowly prevailed thanks largely to overwhelming support from African-American voters (21.8% of the state’s population in 2004). The platform of the N.C. Democrats, meanwhile, expresses strong support for protection of civil liberties, while also affirming the party’s opposition to “discrimination of any kind - whether in employment, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation . . . [with] vigorous enforcement of existing civil rights laws and a periodic re-examination of their adequacy.” [emphasis added]

What happens when political realities and ideological commitments appear to clash? The pairing of Nifong’s flagrant violations of civil liberties in the lacrosse case and Peterson’s outrageous homophobic statements struck me as irreconcilable with the principles laid down in the state party’s platform. So I e-mailed Schorr Johnson, the state party’s communications director, supplied links to Peterson’s comments, and asked:

Given its commitment to opposing discrimination in all forms, including discrimination based on sexual orientation:

1.) Does the party have a statement regarding Ms. Peterson’s positions?

2.) Is the party “very pleased” that she’s serving as citizens’ committee co-chair for the party’s candidate in what probably is the highest-profile race in the state this year?

Johnson’s response? “I have not paid enough attention to have any comment.”

I asked the same questions of the co-chair of the Duke Democrats, who responded: “Duke Democrats is not commenting on Nifong’s election campaign.”

It would seem there are two explanations for the “no-comment” response of both the state and Duke Democrats:

  1. The state and Duke Democratic parties don’t believe that Nifong has violated civil liberties in the lacrosse case, nor do they consider Peterson’s statements homophobic.
  2. The state and Duke Democratic parties are fully aware that the Nifong/Peterson axis contradicts the party’s basic principles, but don’t care enough about those principles to stand up for them in this instance, lest doing so risk alienating the party’s African-American base.

(In the case of the Duke Democrats, any Duke student might also have a legitimate fear of publicly criticizing Nifong, given the Durham P.D.’s official policy of targeting Duke students.)

Regional and campus GLBT organizations likewise proved unwilling to challenge Peterson. Gay rights groups have an (appropriate) reputation for sensitivity to anything resembling homophobic statements, especially by figures in power or those with access to figures in power. Equality NC didn’t reply to my questions; Triangle Community Works responded that because of its non-profit status, “We don’t have a statement regarding Ms. Peterson.”

From Duke GLBT groups, I received even more unusual feedback. The co-chair of the Business School’s GLBT organization stated, “I don’t believe that I have nearly enough information about Ms. Peterson or Mr. Nifong’s knowledge of her allegedly homophobic behavior to make any sort of comment.” (I had supplied links in my email; that a GLBT group co-chair would describe Peterson’s statements as “allegedly” homophobic is nothing short of astonishing.) The tri-chair of the undergraduate GLBT group, meanwhile, attempted to rationalize Peterson’s statements as perhaps based on studies the citizens’ committee co-chair might have read: “When studies cite higher rates of smoking, drug use, and mental health issues in LGBT populations, we have to ask whether LGBT persons engage in risky behaviors because they’re gay or because of the stress associated with societal disapproval. Personally, I think it’s the latter.”

Two explanations seem to exist for the “no-comment”/rationalization response of both regional and Duke GLBT groups:

  1. Regional and Duke GLBT groups don’t consider Peterson’s statements homophobic.
  2. Regional and Duke GLBT groups fully comprehend the homophobic nature of Peterson’s statements, but don’t care enough about condemning homophobia to do so in this instance, lest they be perceived as supporting a group, Duke lacrosse players, with whom they would not normally sympathize.

(In the case of the Duke groups, any Duke student might also have a legitimate fear of publicly criticizing Nifong, given the Durham P.D.’s official policy of targeting Duke students.)

Just like judges, the governor, and the attorney general in the legal realm, state, regional, and campus Democratic and GLBT organizations in the political realm appear unwilling or unable to confront Nifong. Neither N.C. Democrats nor the state's gay rights groups will be well-served by fair-weather fidelity to their basic principles. I suspect that these organizations will look back with shame at their silence regarding the Nifong/Peterson axis.

21 comments:

joan foster said...

Bravo! Another brillant post. I read your blog first thing every morning...gives me food for thought for the day. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

KC,

You have laid out the political side of this, and once again we see people acting expediently instead of with principle. This tells me EVERYTHING that I need to know about the Democratic Party in North Carolina.

Now, we do not see the Republicans weighing in, either, since they are afraid of being accused of being "racist" if they question this Alice-in-Wonderland system of justice. (And, they are afraid they will lose their "tough on crime" appeal.)

In other words, we have two political parties that are full of cowards, liars, and absolutely unprincipled people. And these are supposed to be "leaders"? I don't think so.

William L. Anderson

Anonymous said...

Why is anyone surprised? If you look at the history of the justice system in NC puts it with the worst in the US. And, Durham ranks with the worst in NC. It's about as obvious as anyone I talk to that Nifong is just trying to get elected in November. And, the large black population in Durham is going to vote him in, regardless of what he does, as long as he plays their game.

The fact that the state is just ignoring him is not a surprise. What is is the large number of people moving into the Durham area. I suspect it won't last and Durham will finally go bankrupt financially, just like it's been bankrupt morally since I came to this area almost 20 years ago.

I wish the Duke Three the best of luck. They're going to need it. They certainly won't get a fair trial in Durham, regardless of who they can get for the jury and I don't believe they can get a fair trial anywhere in the south.

We're the laughing stock of the country and we deserve it for electing the same old corrupt pols year after year (regardless of political affiliation).

Thank you for trying to make it right.

Roux said...

I think it is odd that the black community is on the side of Nifong. Had these been black athelete instead of white where would they stand?

Cosmo said...

Annonymous 7:36, Annonymous 9:43 and roux 9:47 all hit the nub of the issue.

Political expediency, indeed, reminiscent of a Cultural Revoluton 'struggle session,' and just about as fair.

"I don't believe they can get a fair trial anywhere in the south."

Sounds like something which have been said about African-American defendants in the pre-civil rights era South.

Indeed, swap the races of the accused and accuser. Watch those who switch sides. They'll be the real bigots.

ed said...

Hmmmm.

I think I probably won't return to Durham County in the future. I used to live in that area when I did contract programming work in the RTP. But as much as I like many of the people that live there, this blatant abuse of power by both the DA and the Durham police makes it certain that I wouldn't willingly place myself under their jurisdiction.

Anonymous said...

To 9:43 AM. I'm not sure that Nifong's election is a foregone conclusion.Here are the results of May 2 primary:

http://abclocal.go.com/three/wtvd/election/race190.htm

Mike Nifong- 11,168 45%

Freda Black- 10,269 42%

Keith Bishop-- 3,288 13%


http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/25357.html

According to the latest voter registration figures, Durham County has 27,070 registered Republicans, 24,566 of whom are white. The county has 86,621 registered Democrats, 46,586 of whom are black. So the demographic bloc supportive of Nifong's behavior formed a majority of the Democratic electorate, while those most likely to be alienated by his tactics couldn't vote in the primary. As the director of the Durham County Board of Elections noted the day after the primary, "We had a lot of irate, irate Republicans who couldn't vote for district attorney."

Anonymous said...

What is it about the south? I have lived in the Northeast, California, and several countries in Europe. Have southerners no morals at all or is racism so pervasive as to permeate every thought and emotion to the exclusion of decency and logic?

Anonymous said...

What is it about the south? I have lived in the Northeast, California, and several countries in Europe. Have southerners no morals at all or is racism so pervasive as to permeate every thought and emotion to the exclusion of decency and logic?

Gimme a break. The Northeast? You should see the racial politics in Philadelphia, where I used to live.

California? Remember a little thing called the Rodney King riots?

Europe? Except for the Holocaust and ongoing public displays of racism (check out a soccer game once in a while), Europeans are paragons of racial harmony.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, swap the races of the accused and accuser. Watch those who switch sides. They'll be the real bigots.

I don't disagree with you, cosmo 11:16. And, I would like to believe that I did treat any race (or college) the same way. And, for the record, I don't much care for Duke or Dukies.

Plus, I still think they were stupid. What were they doing having that kind of party in the first place? These are all smart kids, just no common sense. However, stupid or not, if they didn't do the crime they shouldn't have to pay. And don't kid yourself, they've already paid. This will follow them for the rest of their lives even though all signs point to the fact they didn't rape this girl.

One last thing, on my racial sensabilities. Several years ago a white football player from UNC (if I remember correctly) hit and killed a person while DUI. He was eventually sentenced to two years in jail. I didn't think it was enough. I don't care and don't know what the race or religion or immigration status was of the person he killed.

People of all races get along just fine here. Is there still racism? Of course. And, it's just as much black against white as the reverse. This area (the Triangle as it's known) prides itself on being a bastion of progressivity in a sea (the rest of NC) of backwards, controlling, nasty and corrupt religious zealots. However, Durham always pulls the entire area down to its level.

Rick Sincere said...

That the "leaders" of GLBT political and student groups would so easily dismiss virulently homophobic statements by a politically prominent person is astonishing. Pleading ignorance is simply inexcusable. Where is the independence of thought that once characterized gay men and lesbians?

Anonymous said...

Nifong is a disgusting person who is only out to serve his own agenda.

Steven Matherly said...

I sent this in to the Herald this morning. They probably won't print it so I thought I'd at least post it here. Thanks,

Steven Matherly
vfeiginmatherly@nc.rr.com

There is a lot of misinformation being spread about all aspects of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. Last week I sat throught most of the testimony concerning DNA evidence in court. What I came away with is very different from what the headlines in the Herald portray and what many letter writers are saying. In short what the DNA lab came up with was this: Samples of DNA were taken from the three defendants. DNA was taken from various items and swabs taken from the accuser and evidence collected at the crime scene. A comparison was done to see if any of the DNA taken from the defendants matched any of the DNA found at the crime scene. Partial DNA (i.e. DNA markers, similar to a partial fingerprint) that was consistent with all of the three defendants was indeed found on the evidence from the crime scene. (Allegations that the lab was sloppy were overblown and an attempt to discredit the process. It held little sway with the judge) Therefore, it is possible that the DNA fragments/partials found at the crime scene could have come from the defendants. Far from proving that the defendants could not have committed the crime the evidence shows that they are legitimate suspects. That doesn’t mean they are guilty. All it means is that it is within the realm of possibility that the partial DNA found at the crime scene belongs to one or all of them. Put that together with the fact that they admit being at the party and you have some reason to believe that they might have committed the crime. Add to that the accuser’s identification (assuming it holds up in court) and it becomes even more likely that these guys committed this crime. This may all be coincidental. There may be other explanations for why this partial DNA was found at the crime scene. These may be the wrong guys or, as the defense argues, a crime may not have occurred at all. However, it is irresponsible to say that Mike Nifong is acting unprofessionally. It seems to me that this is how a case is built. Supporters of the accused do us all a disservice when they misrepresent the facts. If these guys are innocent then the evidence will prove it. If they are guilty the evidence will prove that also. When supporters blow smoke and cry wolf it reflects badly on these young men. I applaud the defense attorneys for a vigorous defense of their clients. However, we would all do well to be guided in our opinons about this case by the facts and not by the spin being put forward by both sides.

Jorge, Sarasota said...

I have to tell you. I give Nifong credit for one thing...tenacity. And that's where the credit stops. The man has lost all sense of reality and frankly, by looking at the way he has handled this case, I don't beleive he ever had a true grasp on reality. He has sigle handedly demolished the futures of three young men. He has made a mockery of our legal system. He has flat out ignored every piece of evidence that CLEARLY exhonerates these kids and worse of all; he has been allowed to engage in the most blatantly gross prosecutorial misconduct I have ever had the displeasure of witnessing. Where are his superiors and why have they allowed this lump to continue holding the prestigious seat of District Attornet?

He finally decided to drop the rape charges...DUH!! against the boys, and hopefully, with the grace of whatever common sense he may have left, he will do what's right and clear these boys' good name. And retire!

Bernie Reeves said...

Finnerty Family Breaks Silence

Readers go to www.metronc.com to see pieces by editor and publisher Bernie Reeves who began mortal combat with the Duke culture warriors in 1979 (in his weekly Spectator)including hand-to-hand skirmishes with the infamous Stanley Fish.

The one opinion piece that got it right about the Duke Lacrosse case is the column My Usual Charming Self for June 2006 in Raleigh Metro Magazine written by Reeves(called Sex In The City)in which Dick Brodhead was exposed for his phony PC early reactions.

Then, the January 2007 issue has a column and a first time exclusive: the first interview with one of the families involved. The Collin Finnerty family lets it all out in this exclusive interview. Again: www.metronc.com.

thomas said...

Sounds like Nifong behavior is typical racist. Judging the Duke players based on thier skin color. Whats strange is that Nifong seems to enjoy being racist towards people with the same skin color as his wife, momma and children sounds effeminate to me. Maybe we need a new term "femaracist"

Anonymous said...

Give Nifong to the Iraquis, they'll hang him within hours. Which is what he deserves.

Anonymous said...

You can get Nifonged in Person county or hosed which ever word you wish to use by Joel H. Brewer the DA Judge Smith and Thomas L. Fitzgerald a so called defence lawyer.

Anonymous said...

Bill fron Florida
Let's tell the truth --- also let's not blame anything on the black voters!
It was Nifong that was down in the polls in the upcoming election, and he used this situation for his own political gain to mislead more of the black voters.
Why else do you think he (ommited) did not give out what information he had? Including the DNA. --- He aslo delayed the trial for a year, so that the election would be over.
If this is how the Democratic party has used their smear campain to crush anybody on the other side, then I feel that all true Americans (Including good Democrats) will vote to put anyone they can find and trust. (Not an easy Job!)

Anonymous said...

Nifong has raped the black community!

Anonymous said...

What should happen very quickly is that every case that Nifong has ever handled, where there is someone currently in prison, needs to be reopened and reinvestigated. It's obvious that Nifong doesn't have a big problem with manipulating eveidence to get a conviction. I wonder how many people are in prison when they should not be, which is exactly where the Duke lacrosse players would be today if their parents had not been wealthy.