Sunday, April 26, 2009

N & O: Not a watchdog, but a lap dog

The News & Observer editor John Drescher, in his Saturday, April 25, 2009 column titled, “N&O not letting go vigilance,” made an attempt to assure gullible readers that its investigative team was independent, vigilant, and top-notched. In his words, their investigative team “reflected our commitment to shining a light in the dark corners of government, business, and society. He cited as an investigative coup the coverage of Duke Lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong, who he sarcastically referred to as a “shoot-from-the-lip” prosecutor.

This demeaning reference about Mike Nifong is typical of the biased coverage the media, and the News & Observer in particular, has directed at the Duke Lacrosse case over the past three years. The biased media’s actions were instrumental in allowing the state of North Carolina to destroy the reputation and professional career of a prosecutor who had devoted more than 27 years as a public servant to the state, and who was pursing the Duke Lacrosse case in good conscience. What North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has accomplished after wresting control of the Duke Lacrosse case are as follows: (1) shutting down the investigation into the case, and assuring that the reprehensible actions that my have taken place at the lacrosse party will never be known; (2) the persecution and prosecution of District Attorney Nifong, which included disbarment, withholding of state counsel to which he was entitled, sentenced to serve jail time, and an attempt to get the Federal Justice Department to investigate Nifong; and (3) a public and well publicized proclamation of “innocent” for all three Duke Lacrosse defendants. These actions by the attorney general are singularly unique and, in concert with Duke University rolling over to the settlement demands of the Duke Lacrosse defendants, set the stage for the plethora of legal actions filed against the city of Durham, its officials, and Duke University.

I submit that a truly objective investigative team would question the aforementioned uncharacteristic actions of Attorney General Roy Cooper with respect to the Duke Lacrosse case. Many individuals have pointed out a direct relationship between the actions of the attorney general, and a marked increase in contributions to his campaign coffers (a large majority of which are from states in which families of the Duke Lacrosse defendants reside). Furthermore, a truly objective investigative team would have investigated the entire Duke Lacrosse case, and not simply its prosecutor.

The number of prosecutors in the Tar Heel state who have committed misconduct far more egregious than what Mr. Nifong is accused of, is legion. Prosecutors have withheld vital exculpatory evidence (Alan Gell case, Michael Peterson case, Charles Wayne Munsey case, and others), destroyed material evidence requested by the defense (Theodore Jerry Williams case), concocted false confessions (Floyd Brown case), and employed false “eyewitnesses” (James Arthur Johnson case) in attempts to gain convictions against defendants, many of whom the prosecutors know beforehand are innocent. Also, there’s the issue of the prosecutors who sanctioned the pre-meditated assault of an inmate (Theodore Jerry Williams). These are the cases in which the media has shied away from. But what is most telling is that the wayward prosecutors of these horrendous cases, in which poor, disenfranchised defendants spend countless years falsely incarcerated, are never mentioned by name. In fact, the News & Observer goes through great lengths to conceal their identities, and, when possible, not to even cover the stories. However, if a story appears in the N & O which contains questionable actions by a North Carolina prosecutor, you can count on the paper prominently parading Duke Lacrosse Prosecutor Mike Nifong’s name throughout it.

One thing that the media wants to keep hidden from the public is the fact that Mike Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception. The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong is the only source of this information, on its web site, and on its blog site

The reporters, the editorial staff, and the investigative reporters of the News & Observer, as well as other Triangle news publications are very selective when it comes to covering Mike Nifong. They ignore the good about Mr. Nifong, and magnify out of proportion what may be perceived as the bad and the ugly. Their objective is to minimize the fact that there are those who ardently support Mr. Nifong. The only mention, for example, of the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong has been in a column by the paper’s designated hatchet man, columnist Barry Saunders. The editorial staff has refused to write about the unfairness of the disbarment of Mr. Nifong, has refused to comment on the wasted taxpayer monies going to the private-sector prosecutor W. David McFadyen in the James Johnson accessory case (which was pursued to shield Prosecutor Bill Wolfe from a complaint of misconduct filed with the State Bar by NAACP president Rev. Barber), and refused to share their views about the inequities in the state’s justice system when it comes to the “haves” and the “have nots.” Descriptions to define Mr. Nifong such as “disgraced prosecutor” and “shoot-from-the-lip prosecutor” are used by the newspaper to influence the minds of its readers who abdicate the use of theirs when it comes to Mike Nifong.

Throughout the Duke Lacrosse case, the media, the News & Observer in particular, has been in lockstep with the Attorney General’s Office on the issue of the Duke Lacrosse case. The N & O has been characterizing the Duke Lacrosse defendants as innocent victims, suggesting the case against the defendants was without merit, and portraying its prosecutor as being the epitome of the worst prosecutor in North Carolina history. That is the exact message that Attorney General Roy Cooper wants conveyed to the public.

Therefore, when it comes to Mike Nifong and the Duke Lacrosse case, and the North Carolina justice system, in general, the News & Observer is not a watchdog concerned with protecting the interests of the general public, but a lap dog whose agenda is to carry out the wishes of the general attorney.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why the re-instatement of Mike Nifong’s license to practice law is important to North Carolina justice.

The past month I have been hard at work on the “Super-Duper Cooper” comic strip’s Episode III, which I have just completed. The genre of the comic strip, I believe, is a very important and effective vehicle for which to present issues and cases of North Carolina justice to the public. Therefore, I put a lot of effort into producing them, and consequently it is very time consuming. Episode III will be posted on the “” web site beginning the first Sunday in May, with Parts 2 through 4 being posted on subsequent Sundays in May.

While taking a break before beginning work on Episode IV, I will now try to update the web site and publish a few more blogs.

I would like to thank all of the individuals who have taken time to make comments to the blog, as I value all opinions, even those which are not in agreement with ours. Recently we received a comment from “Justice 58” who felt that the blog site should be devoted to going after all prosecutors who have committed misconduct rather than just focusing on restoring Mike Nifong’s license to practice law. This is not an uncommon sentiment, but there are many salient reasons why we chose reinstating Mike Nifong’s law license as our primary and sole goal. Restoring Mr. Nifong’s law license is: (1) practical, (2) symbolic, (3) it is a just cause, and (4) it is achievable.

Although the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong believes that other prosecutors are guilty of far more egregious behavior than what Mr. Nifong is alleged to have committed, the State Bar and the attorney general of North Carolina have made it perfectly clear that they will not punish, or sanction, or disbar a prosecutor who abides by the state’s tenet of selective justice based on Class and Color. We have made attempts to see that justice is done by filing complaints with the State Bar against prosecutors Jim Hardin and Freda Black (for withholding exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys in the Michael Peterson case), as well as defense attorney Johnny Gaskins (who violated attorney-client privilege against his former client James Arthur Johnson). There are many prosecutors (Michael Parker, Bill Wolfe, David Hoke, Debra Graves, Ken Honeycutt, and others) who have committed prosecutorial misconduct that has been responsible for winning convictions against innocent people, but the State Bar and Attorney General Roy Cooper have made it clear that they lack the will to investigate or discipline them. Therefore, it is impractical for our Committee to pursue a course of trying to see that they are punished to a degree similar to what Mr. Nifong faced.

Like it or not, Mike Nifong has come to represent “prosecutorial misconduct” not only in the state of North Carolina, but throughout the country. This reputation was conferred upon him because of the unjust treatment he received (including being the only prosecutor ever to be disbarred by the NC State Bar since its inception), as well as the uneven and unfair coverage of the Duke Lacrosse case and its aftermath by the biased media. As ridiculous as it seems, North Carolina is subsequently cast as taking responsibility for severely disciplining its prosecutors who do not act as “ministers of justice.” Nothing could actually be further from the truth, for Mr. Nifong was acting well within the standards practiced by other prosecutors in the state, while others, who spat in the face of justice and soiled their robes as ministers of justice, received a pass by the State Bar. Therefore, it is extremely important that Mike Nifong be reinstated in order to tear down the myths of: (1) Mr. Nifong being representative of the worst example of prosecutorial misconduct in history, and (2) North Carolina holding its prosecutors to the highest standards by strictly enforcing disciplinary action against those prosecutors who engage in misconduct.

The case for reinstating Mr. Nifong’s license is justified and well documented. The state of North Carolina subjected Mr. Nifong to extreme and excessive persecution and prosecution for his actions in the Duke Lacrosse case… actions which were far less egregious than those by other prosecutors. Other prosecutors have withheld crucial exculpatory evidence (including the existence of a murder weapon) from the defense attorneys, destroyed material evidence requested by defense attorneys, manufactured false confessions, enlisted “eyewitnesses” to testify who they knew to be fraudulent, and conspired to assault and bring false charges against an inmate. Attorney General Roy Cooper did not merely overlook these abominable actions, but went to extreme lengths to defend them. Meanwhile, the biased media has defined, for the mindless multitude, Mr. Nifong as being the singularly most vile and despicable prosecutor to ever serve the state of North Carolina. Mr. Nifong’s alleged misconduct: withholding extraneous, irrelevant information about unidentified DNA from defense attorneys – information which was of no value to the Duke defendants. Furthermore, the injustice suffered by defendants of other prosecutors was far more severe (including years wrongfully incarcerated, some on death row) than any injustice Mr. Nifong’s defendants may have endured (they served no time in jail, received seven million dollars each from Duke University, and were proclaimed “innocent” by the attorney general).

The goal of the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong is to persuade the North Carolina State Bar to unilaterally and unconditionally reinstate Mr. Nifong’s license to practice law in the state of North Carolina without restrictions. That is a goal which is well defined, supported by justice, and within reach. What is ultimately taking place is a battle between the combined power and wealth of the state of North Carolina and the wealthy and privileged families of the Duke Lacrosse defendants, versus justice, which is steadfastly embedded in Mike Nifong’s camp. The state hopes to prevail by using their overwhelming wealth and power to wear down the forces of justice, not by arguing the merits of their position. That is because the state’s position with regards to the disbarment of Mr. Nifong is without merit. The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong is committed to presenting its argument that Mr. Nifong’s law license should be reinstated, and it will pursue that goal until it is finally achieved. Getting there is possible, but it is not going to be easy.

The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong is aware that prosecutorial misconduct was prevalent in the past, exists now, and will continue to exist into the future despite efforts to curb it. Symbolically, Mr. Nifong has been saddled by the state and biased media with being the sole cause of the Tar Heel state’s prosecutorial problems of misconduct and injustice. The gross injustice and mistreatment that Mr. Nifong and his family have sustained can best be rectified by the reinstatement of his law license… a goal that is going to be difficult for us to reach, but is definitely within our grasp.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

NC Department of Corrections’s logic behind the illogical

In Monday, April 6, 2009’s “News & Observer,” Ruth Sheehan wrote a gutsy column titled, “Inmate’s plight a travesty.” It was right on the money, and brought forth many situations, which at first blush appeared to be illogical. The first of which was: why was it necessary to handcuff and shackle to a hospital bed a “prisoner” who was totally paralyzed since August 2008 because of a beating administered by guards at that time. He certainly wasn’t a flight risk, as he needed assistance just to sit up in bed. This doesn’t seem logical. However, the psychologists and administrators and those whose directives are responsible for this action have a well thought out reason for doing so. It is relatively simple and boils down to this: A hand-cuffed, shackled, and chained quadriplegic inmate lying half conscious in a hospital bed appears to be more threatening, more felonious, more dangerous, and less sympathetic than an unrestrained quadriplegic inmate. It is all for show. The D.O.C. is trying to market the inmate as being dangerous, a bad guy, and a menace (even in his quadriplegic state).

Another point that Ms. Sheehan addressed about the incident is why was the inmate, Tim Helms, charged for allegedly damaging property when no one was charged with severely assaulting and damaging Mr. Helms. After being beaten so badly that damage to his brain left him paralyzed, Mr. Helms, who was serving three life sentences for murder (vehicular manslaughter), was charged with two felonies: burning a public building and malicious damage to occupied property. Any rational person would not even consider filing such charges for someone serving a three life sentences for starting a fire which may have caused some damage in an isolation cell in a super-max prison. However, the Department of Corrections does not mind wasting taxpayer money on such nonsense because it believes that by doing so, it makes the inmate seem more sinister and more evil. Again, the DOC is trying to sway public opinion.

The article in Sunday’s (April 5, 2009) “News & Observer” titled “SBI investigates how inmate’s brain was badly injured,” is very tragic and troublesome. The heading reads, “Blunt-force trauma turns a state prisoner in solitary confinement into a quadriplegic. Officials say they don’t know how it happened.” It is obvious to any reasonable person that state prisoner Timothy Helms was savagely clobbered with billy-clubs by the guards, and allowed to remain in his cell for approximately 24 hours or more before prison official sought medical attention for him.

According to Tim Helms’s family, there is reason to believe that he was not even at the wheel of the truck which ran a stop signal and struck a car killing two of its occupants. Mr. Helms and another person in the truck were both thrown from the truck, with other man dying of his injuries. The prosecution based its case against Tim Helms on a signed statement he made in which he accepted responsibility for the accident and agreed to serve three life sentences. The only problem is that Tim Helms is severely retarded with an IQ of 79 (believed to be the result of a childhood head injury). This is not unlike the State’s case against Mr. Floyd Brown, a severely retarded man who prosecutors stated signed a written confession to a murder. He was later released after being held for fourteen years without a trial, and Attorney General Roy Cooper, who stated he would investigate the reasons for the outrageous delay in the Brown case, has yet to do so.

Furthermore, according to the Sunday article, in September 2008, the then-DOC Secretary Theodis Beck sent a letter to the State Bureau of Investigation asking for agents to be assigned to the Helms case. According to current DOC Secretary Alvin W. Keller, Jr., the SBI, which is under the supervision of Attorney General Roy Cooper, was unable to launch an investigation until early this March (shortly after “News & Observer” contacted a DOC attorney seeking information about Helms on February 24, 2009). I would imagine that any investigation by the SBI under A.G. Cooper would take quite a bit of time and essentially be a whitewash, similar to the investigation regarding Floyd Brown.

The only time Attorney General Cooper has acted with any speed has been in the Duke Lacrosse case. Within months of taking control of that case, his so-called “investigation” into it was completed, he stated no crimes had been committed, he proclaimed the privileged Duke defendants “innocent,” he led the effort to successfully have Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong disbarred (the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception), and he sought to have the U.S. Attorney General investigate Mr. Nifong.

What is very troubling is the extent at which the Department of Corrections went to keep Timothy Helms’s family from seeing him. State officials lied to the family about the incident at the prison, about the injuries and medical condition of Timothy, and even went so far as to say that he did not want members of his family to be contacted. The last statement of an e-mail from Keith Acree, Public Affairs Director for the NC Department of Corrections (published in the Sunday “News & Observer”) to Tim’s brother Mike Helms, read: “Additionally there is no evidence to support any claim that Tim was beaten by officers while handcuffed.” Mr. Acree is playing word games. Whether or not he was handcuffed or not is not the issue. Mr. Acree is implicitly implying in the e-mail that Tim Helms was not beaten by officers.

The actions and cover-up by the state’s Department of Corrections and Attorney General’s office of the Helms’s incident, are shameful, an outrage, and an embarrassment to the state of North Carolina. That Mr. Helms’s story was brought forth by the “News & Observer,” is, itself, amazing. Although there are other similar stories, such as the assault upon inmate Theodore Jerry Williams by Union County sheriff deputies, the media has kept them under wraps. The frightening reality is that there are many such incidents occurring in prisons throughout the state.

The North Carolina Department of Corrections Public Affairs Director Keith Acree flippantly stated that “every prison receives complaints. Inmates don’t like being in prison.” The fact is that they may not like being in prison, however, I am certain that their complaints have to do with the systemic and statewide inhumane, degrading, demoralizing, and abusive behavior they receive from the corrections staff and directors. This mistreatment is a fact that Mr. Acree chooses to ignore and does not wish to acknowledge.

Friday, April 3, 2009

North Carolina can learn from the U.S. Justice Department

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.