Due to numerous missteps by the U.S. federal prosecutors in the case against former Alaska state Senator Ted Stevens, the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder moved to drop all charges against him, which included seven felony ethics violations. Holder also said that he would not seek a new trial. This announcement, which came on April Fool’s day, was no joke, and came after Holder became aware of yet another instance of prosecutorial misconduct, on top of several others. The “News & Observer” referred to the sudden and dramatic turn of events as a “stunning embarrassment,” which it was. However, I believe that it was also a courageous act by Attorney General Holder, and furthermore, that it was the right thing to do.
Unfortunately, it is all too often that high ranking officials allow the possible personal and departmental embarrassment of a situation to stand in the way of them taking just and appropriate actions. Such is definitely the case with selective disbarment and unjustifiable mistreatment of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong by the North Carolina State Bar, the state’s attorney general, and other state agencies. For Mr. Nifong to be the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the State Bar since its inception, is an utter outrage, especially in lieu of the many state prosecutors who have won convictions against innocent defendants by using unscrupulous and unethical tactics.
The North Carolina State Bar should learn from the Federal Department of Justice and act based on merits of a position and not allow their egos to dictate what course to take. It is very obvious to any reasonable, rational, logical individual that Mr. Nifong should never have had his law license taken from him because of his handling of the Duke Lacrosse case. I believe that Mr. Nifong’s case against the lacrosse players had merit, but because Attorney General Roy Cooper essentially quashed the investigation and slid it into a black bag, we will never know the true strength of the case. One thing is undeniable, and that is that the information about extraneous, irrelevant unidentified DNA found on the accuser’s rape kit exam, was of no material value to the defense attorneys, and played no role in denying the Duke lacrosse defendants justice. The biased media and other non-objective observers have often referred to the extraneous unidentified DNA findings as being “exculpatory evidence.” This misstatement is blatantly false, and is made to mislead the gullible public into believing Mr. Nifong’s actions in the Duke Lacrosse case were detrimental to the cause of justice, and are justification for the extreme punishment inflicted on him (including disbarment).
If the North Carolina State Bar learns from the U.S. Justice Department’s errors, has the courage to accept responsibility for its mistakes, and is committed to rectifying them, then it will take steps to immediately re-instate Mr. Nifong’s license to practice law. I do not foresee this course of action in the near future because, even if the State Bar had the courage to admit that it made a mistake, it lacks the will to see that Mr. Nifong is treated justly. Therefore, the only way that the State Bar will move in a positive direction with respect to Mr. Nifong, is only under great persuasion.
Another recent North Carolina case represents a similar instance when the will to right a wrong is lacking. Judge Orlando Hudson, like U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, should have tossed out the murder conviction of Michael Peterson after it came to light that the original prosecutors (James E. “Jim” Hardin and Freda Black) withheld from the Peterson defense team the existence of a possible murder weapon and the results of tests performed on it. By withholding that crucial piece of evidence, it deprived the defendant of ever getting a fair trial, and caused irreparable damage to his defense. At minimum, Judge Hudson should have ordered a new trial for Mr. Peterson. It would not have taken courage for the judge to rule in favor of the defendant’s appellate attorneys on their motion for a new trial, because doing so would be the appropriate and just thing to do. However, as lap dog for the attorney general, Judge Hudson lacked the will to do the right thing, and he proceeded to rule against Mr. Peterson.
North Carolina’s state and local justice systems are teeming with prosecutors who lack the courage to face a little embarrassment and/or lack the will to see that justice is done. It is certainly comforting to know that on a federal level, the chief prosecutor has both the courage and will to see that justice prevails.