The effects of Mike Nifong’s activities have spread well beyond the North Carolina borders. In Maryland, the Baltimore Sun recently profiled Ocean City’s chief prosecutor, Joel Todd. Todd is set to prosecute the locally high-profile case of Christy L. Freeman, who allegedly murdered her four children.
The Nifong effect? Sun reporters
Talbot County prosecutor Scott G. Patterson, the newly chosen president of the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, said high-profile cases such as Freeman’s can be a real test for prosecutors.
“You don’t want to be a Nifong, out trying a case in the media, but at the same time, the media have a right to ask questions,” Patterson said, referring to Michael B. Nifong, the former prosecutor in Durham, N.C., who was widely criticized for pursuing rape charges against three Duke University lacrosse players who were later cleared. “Those kinds of cases become extremely time-consuming. Everything gets ratcheted up.”
Meanwhile, just to the north in Pennsylvania, this month’s attorneys’ E-newsletter of the State Disciplinary Board featured the Nifong case as a way to remind lawyers of the importance of ethics.
The newsletter noted how some have feared that Nifong’s behavior might make prosecutors fearful to bring marginal cases. That, it noted, would be the wrong lesson, since “this was a flagrant pattern of misconduct, far outside the scope of normal prosecutorial conduct and far more serious than just bringing a bad case. Lawyers in general, and prosecutors in particular, will probably not face serious discipline merely for bringing or proceeding with a marginal case. Lawyers who lie to investigators, however, almost certainly will.”
The newsletter further noted that in Pennsylvania, as in North Carolina and in most states, it’s the prosecutor’s job to achieve justice, not “win” at trial.
And, of course, the Nifong effect remains powerful in North Carolina. In yesterday’s N&O, reporter Titan Barksdale observed, “Mike Nifong may have never made his way to the legislature this year. But the former Durham County district attorney's presence was felt there nonetheless,” as the state legislature considered criminal justice issues.
Nifong was critical to passage of bills mandating a statewide baseline for eyewitness ID procedures and also to allow the governor to remove disbarred district attorneys or judges from office. And the legacy of the intentional agreement to withhold evidence between the ex-DA and Dr. Brian Meehan was critical in blocking prosecutors’ efforts to noticeably scale back the state’s open discovery law.
Senate majority leader Tony Rand was blunt: "Of course Nifong was on their minds in the consideration of those bills. It was sort of a specter that was hovering over the whole thing. You couldn't help but think about it.”
To the extent that Nifong’s behavior has highlighted the importance of legal ethics around the country, the outcome is a good one.
Hat tip: T.B.