Saturday, November 22, 2008

If you make a mistake, just correct it.

I was heartened to read in today’s (November 22, 2008) “News & Observer” that Orange County Superior Court Judge Carl Fox reconsidered the maximum sentence of 30 years and 6 months that he had given to Michael Troy Lewis for his conviction of robbery involving three UNC-Chapel Hill football players. After giving it additional thought, Judge Fox came to the conclusion that the sentence he had given to Mr. Lewis was excessive, and he reduced the sentence to between approximately 17 and 22 years.

Unfortunately, this is but one of few instances where individuals in position of power and authority have, in essence, realized and admitted that they made a mistake, and took responsibility for it by correcting it. I applaud Judge Fox for doing the right thing.

The executive director of the North Carolina State Bar, Mr. L. Thomas Lunsford and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper could learn a great deal from the example set by Honorable Judge Fox. They need to take responsibility for the excessively unjust disciplinary action meted out to former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong (disbarment), and correct their actions by re-instating, without conditions, Mr. Nifong’s license to practice law in the state of North Carolina, without restrictions. (Mr. Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the NC State Bar since its inception.)

This corrective measure is long overdue, especially when one considers not only past prosecutorial misconduct by other prosecutors which is far more egregious than what Mr. Nifong has been accused of, but of more recent disclosures of serious prosecutorial misconduct. For example, in the November 13, 2008 “News & Observer,” an article by staff writer Anne Blythe revealed that prosecutors withheld from the defense attorneys of Michael Peterson information about a tire iron which had been found near the scene of the murder for which he was convicted. Prosecutors claimed that Mr. Peterson had beaten his wife to death with a fireplace poker, and yet they withheld information from the defense team of a possible murder weapon.

Withholding a possible murder weapon from defense attorneys is markedly more severe than withholding non-exculpatory information about multiple, un-identified DNA found in a rape kit exam, as occurred in the Duke Lacrosse case.

Furthermore, in keeping with its anti-Nifong policy reporter Blythe neglected to mention the names of the prosecutors who withheld that very important evidence. It is my understanding that former Durham District Attorney James Hardin (who has been elevated to a judge) and prosecutor Freda Black prosecuted the case against Mr. Peterson. However, because of the selective nature of North Carolina (based on Class and Color) I do not anticipate that either of them will be brought before the State Bar. Nor do I expect that they will be disbarred.

What I hope is that Mr. Lunsford and Attorney General Cooper would take a page from the Honorable Judge Carl Fox’s book by realizing the errors of their ways, and taking immediate action to correct them. This would amount to the NC State Bar's re-instatement of Mr. Mike Nifong’s license to practice law.

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