Mike Nifong’s petulant letter to the Bar managed to return him to national media attention, two weeks out from his criminal contempt trial.
Nifong even managed to get a link from the Drudge Report, which has around 14 million visitors per day. Locally, Duke Basketball Report headlined the affair, “Bad Nifong Reappears,” while Baldo offered his take.
Perhaps not exactly what the ex-DA had intended when he fired off his missive.
As the Michael Vick case moves on, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Terence Moore had an interesting article that brought to mind events of the Duke case. After watching a rally for Vick promising to support him even if he were guilty, and hearing the head of the Southern Christian leadership Conference suggest that the civil rights organization might honor Vick at its annual conference, Moore expressed wonderment at “this blind loyalty given to Michael Vick by many in the African-American community.”
To use the parlance favored by unnamed Duke “senior administrators,” Vick is hardly a “choir boy.” (Moore notes that Vick’s supporters appeared to “forget that he hasn’t exactly been Warrick Dunn, a certified ‘outstanding human being’ after years of flourishing on and off the field.”) More troublingly, Moore encountered rationalizations from Vick’s backers: “‘It’s just dogs,’ I keep hearing as a mantra, from the church to the barbershop to the grocery store.”
The reaction to Vick in some quarters of the African-American community brought to mind the blind—and short-sighted— support for Crystal Mangum among some Durham black residents. The lacrosse case provided a perfect opportunity for North Carolina African-American organizations to bring attention to the issue of prosecutorial misconduct—which disproportionately affects the poor and minorities—and perhaps even create a coalition across ideology for reform.
Instead, of course, the NAACP placed on its website Al McSurely’s guilt-presuming memorandum of law. NCCU students participated in what one defense attorney termed a “pep rally for an indictment.” More than 90 percent of Durham’s black voters cast their ballots for Mike Nifong. Overtly racist comments came from NCCU student leaders or former city Democratic officials—and passed without rebuke from the city’s political and media leadership.
As things appear now, those who blindly supported Vick appear to have been misguided—but surely no more than those who blindly, and in some cases gleefully, championed Mangum’s cause.
Interim DA Jim Hardin was back in the news this week. He dismissed reports that he might stay on the job until the 2008 elections, although he said he wasn’t familiar with Mike Easley’s progress in naming a permanent (interim) replacement for Mike Nifong.
In an interview with WRAL, meanwhile, Hardin suggested that his office had an image problem, caused by people associating Nifong’s conduct with the office as a whole. Remarked Nifong’s former boss: “We’ve had to deal with it in a couple of cases when we were selecting juries. I mean, it’s on everyone’s mind. It still is, to some degree.”
Hardin, clearly, has made some good moves. He fired Linwood Wilson. He recently brought on board a specialist in legal ethics. But he hasn’t given any public accounting (nor is he likely to) how the two most senior prosecutors in the office (David Saacks and Tracey Cline) helped get the ball rolling on the lacrosse case by signing off on a transparently excessive non-testimonial order requiring all 46 white lacrosse players to give DNA. Nor has he said what steps the office will take to ensure that prosecutors show greater respect for civil liberties in the future.
WRAL concluded by noting that Hardin had suggested that Easley appoint Nifong to the position in 2005. Hardin cited Nifong’s experience and reputation. Hardin: “Looking at it from that perspective, it was the right thing(!). But, if I had to do it over again, I might’ve done things differently.”
Not exactly the most reassuring statement.
Of the Group of 88, only one member (Arlie Petters) has publicly expressed regret about the statement’s impact. Two other (tenured) Group members privately apologized, in writing, to lacrosse families—only to retract those apologies when they signed the “clarifying” letter, which affirmed, “There have been public calls to the authors to retract the ad or apologize for it . . . We reject all of these.”
About the only other moderate voice to emerge from the Group of 88 has been Lee Baker. Baker is, to my knowledge, the only Group member to publicly assert “that there was a miscarriage of criminal justice” in the lacrosse case. He did so in a way suggesting that the players’ backers were unconcerned with social justice, but his statement stands out in comparison to anything else the Group members have produced.
One other point about Baker: virtually alone among the Group, he appears to believe in transparency. Her had placed some of his syllabi on-line (the only Group member to do so), and also some of his scholarship.
Steve Horwitz took a look at one of Baker’s articles. Is it all that surprising that someone whose scholarship appears to be more mainstream than that of his Group colleagues also had adopted at least a slightly more moderate approach to the case?
An important post at Liestoppers asks what happened to North Carolina legislation requiring transcripts of all grand jury sessions. This seemed like an easy item to fix, and one much in need of repair. Because no transcripts are currently required, we’ll never know if Sgt. Mark Gottlieb told the grand jury on April 17, 2006 that one week before, Dr. Meehan hadn’t found any match to Reade Seligmann’s or Collin Finnerty’s DNA—but had found matches to the DNA of unidentified males. Or whether the sergeant mentioned that the only evidence against Seligmann and Finnerty (the April 4 lineup) resulted from Mike Nifong ordering the police not to follow their own procedures. Or whether the grand jurors ever learned of the March 15, 2006 UNC medical report.
As Liestoppers notes,
The North Carolina General Assembly adjourned on August 2, 2007 without passing much needed reform of the current grand jury system, insuring NC will remain in the legal dark ages. By not requiring a record of grand jury proceedings, prosecutors are free to follow disbarred DA Mike Nifong’s bad example and deny defendants a probable cause hearing where a lack of evidence and fraudulent affidavits, as in the Duke Hoax case, could be revealed early in the process. Instead, cynical prosecutors may continue pretending that an easily manipulated grand jury has the tools and ability to conduct a true hearing of available evidence, both inculpatory & exculpatory.
Instead—amazingly—the state legislature substituted the bill to require grad jury transcripts with an act “allowing a district court judge to perform marriage ceremonies.”
In addition, the Liestoppers writers observed that while the legislature preserved the open discovery statute, it did nothing to require police officers to follow customary procedures in retaining evidence:
Of course, nowhere does it state that a police officer must keep notes or record interviews. So Sgt. Mark “No notes” Gottlieb can keep his Dry Erase Board and hope that Ben “With what?” Himan may occasionally photograph it for discovery. Miraculously recovered memories are still safe, which comes in handy when filling in large holes in cases.
LieStoppers is deeply disappointed that the North Carolina General Assembly, despite being nationally humiliated for having an easily manipulated grand jury system which wrongly indicted three totally innocent men for a crime which never happened, has chosen to do nothing. NC remains a state where another Nifong can easily “indict a ham sandwich,” as it has not addressed the system failures which allowed the wrongful indictments in the Duke Lacrosse Hoax.
Yesterday, Duke announced that linebacker Michael Tauiliili would be suspended for one game (the season opener against UConn). Tauilili, who is 20 years old, was arrested on charges of driving while impaired (he had a .12 blood alcohol level), assault by pointing a gun (an air pistol), carrying a concealed weapon (a knife), and assault.
Football coach Ted Roof explained the decision: “From the start, we wanted to reach a decision that is fair to Michael, our team, the athletic department and the university. We also will allow the judicial system [to] run its course, and the outcome of that process could require further disciplinary action.”
Hopefully, this move suggests a renewed respect for the presumption of innocence so lacking from the administration in the lacrosse case. Otherwise, the action is rather difficult to explain. The administration officially claimed that it canceled the March 25 and March 28, 2006 lacrosse games (12.5 percent of the season) solely as punishment for the party, not due to a presumption of guilt. Tauiliili lost 9.1 percent of his season for behavior (driving with a .12 blood alcohol level, though underage) that most (outside of BYU and Liberty, at least) would consider far more serious than a spring break party with drinking and lewd entertainment.
No word yet on whether the Group of 88 plans to take out an ad denouncing Tauilili. Also no word on how the Tauilili arrest has affected Peter Wood, who theorized last April about how the lacrosse players were upper-class undesirables, unlike “the football players here,” who “are often rural white boys with baseball caps or hard-working black students who are proud to be at Duke.”
University of Alberta law professor Russ Brown correctly reminds readers that, while Mike Nifong has departed from the scene, Nifong’s media enablers remain unpunished.
“What to do,” he asks, “about these students having been presumed guilty and duly vilified on CNN by that venom-sputterin’ legal gadfly, Nancy Grace? One hopes a big, fat defamation lawsuit is about to land on Time Warner’s lap.”
Today’s Herald-Sun reports that the paper’s managing editor, Bill Stagg, has resigned to accept a job working for the Duke Medical Center. According to the H-S,
Stagg said The Herald-Sun proved it was “the smaller paper that could, and did”—particularly in its higher education coverage(!).
“I think the paper has done an admirable job covering the Durham community,” he said.
Such remarks raise the question of whether Stagg even read his paper’s coverage of the lacrosse case.
And who will replace Stagg? An inside candidate. Editor Bob Ashley said that he was “disinclined” even to post the opening on journalism websites.