Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mark your calendars – September 14th Bill LuMaye Show

Monday, September 14, 2009 has been set for Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong Lay Advocate Sidney Harr to guest on the “Bill LuMaye Show” on talk radio WPTF – 680 AM. Although he is currently scheduled to guest beginning in the four o’clock time slot, efforts are being made to get the North Carolina State Bar to also participate, which could garner an extra hour, beginning at 3 pm. It is best to tune in at 3:00 pm, in the event the entire show is devoted to the unjust and selective disbarment of Mike Nifong.

The timing of the program comes earlier in the week in which another prosecutor, Gregory C. Butler of Johnston County, finds himself in the crosshairs of the State Bar. A rare event (a grievance complaint against a prosecutor), Mr. Butler is being charged with withholding evidence from the defense team of Tiffany Bassett, a defendant who later pled guilty to the second degree murder of her boyfriend. This case against Butler, from a review of the complaint and its response, seems to be totally without merit. Even the defense attorney and the seated judge both feel the accusations lodged by the State Bar are unwarranted.

It is ridiculous that the North Carolina State Bar would elect to bypass the egregious misconduct of Prosecutor Bill Wolfe (James Arthur Johnson case) which resulted in a gross miscarriage of justice as Johnson served 39 months in jail without a trial on charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery (all which were later dropped), and set its sights on Prosecutor Butler in a case in which justice was not denied, but may have possibly been delayed for six months.

The Bar’s Grievance hearing against Gregory Butler, scheduled for 10:00 am on Monday, September 14th, on the third floor courtroom of the Wake County Courthouse, promises to be very interesting. I cannot imagine that he could possibly be disbarred on such a flimsy case, but then anything is possible with the State Bar. The case against former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was just as shaky as the one against Butler, and yet Mr. Nifong was disbarred… the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception in 1933. One prosecutor disbarred in 76 years, this despite the fact that North Carolina follows only the states of Illinois and Louisiana in the number of death-row inmates to be eventually exonerated (most, if not all, convicted due to some sort of prosecutorial misconduct).

When prosecutors David Hoke and Debra Graves withheld exculpatory evidence which exonerated defendant Alan Gell in the commission of a murder, a gross miscarriage of justice incurred, as Mr. Gell spent nine years in prison, half on death row. Justice was definitely denied. Yet, when the State Bar held a disciplinary hearing for them, they received only a written reprimand, as their adjudicators decided that the egregious actions of Hoke and Graves were “unintentional.” The defendants prosecuted by disbarred Mike Nifong, on the other hand, spent no time in jail, received $7 million each in an out of court settlement with Duke University, and were proclaimed “innocent” by the Attorney General Roy Cooper. Even the defendant prosecuted by Butler was not inconvenienced or subjected to an injustice.

The North Carolina State Bar, by its arbitrary and senseless actions, has demonstrated that this unregulated state agency, which has no accountability, is out of control. The justice system of the state, and therefore all Tar Heel residents, is at the mercy of this mysterious and secretive group. Regrettably, the state General Assembly has just passed into law a bill (H. B. 360) that allows this agency to borrow money for the enrichment of the Bar elite at taxpayer expense. It is understandable that legislators, the majority of whom have law licenses, are not confrontational when it comes to legislation that benefits the State Bar, the agency empowered to disbar (without reason or rationale).

Although the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong hopes that the North Carolina State Bar will participate in the September 14th Bill LuMaye program, we believe that such a prospect is not very likely. But then, how can you blame the Bar for not being willing to defend its actions against Mike Nifong when those actions were unethical and are indefensible. The Lay Advocate promises to take on all issues and questions related to Mr. Nifong’s disbarment head-on. Don’t miss the show.

Also, the finishing touches are being applied to the latest episode (Episode IV) of “The MisAdventures of Super-Duper Cooper,” so check the website for a sneak preview, to be posted the first part of September. Episode IV’s Part 1 (of 4) will be posted later in the month of September, or in early October.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

State Bar complaint against Gregory Butler is ridiculous

On Friday, September 18, 2009, a rare event will take place. The North Carolina State Bar will hold a disciplinary hearing with a state prosecutor in the hot seat. Johnston county prosecutor Gregory C. Butler will go before the Bar’s Grievance Commission on a complaint related to the tardiness of the prosecution in providing defense with items of discovery in the Tiffany Bassett case. From information provided by Mr. Butler’s response to the complaint, this grievance is totally without merit. To begin with, both the judge assigned to hear the Bassett case, as well as Ms. Bassett’s defense attorney hold Butler blameless as far as intentionally withholding evidence. To the contrary, he went out of his way to provide the defense with all evidence in accordance with the state’s open file discovery policy. Furthermore, Mr. Butler joined the prosecution team just two months prior to trial, long after most of the items sought by defense motions had been provided.

After the judge admonished the prosecution for presenting a file (recently uncovered by Butler, but which contained mostly documents which were already in possession of the defense) of 437 pages to defense just prior to trial, the North Carolina State Bar took it upon itself to open a file against Prosecutor Butler and then file a grievance against him. The action by the State Bar forced Prosecutor Butler to recuse himself from the case (not unlike what happened to former Durham Prosecutor Mike Nifong and the Duke Lacrosse case). This resulted in another delay, as the main prosecutor in the case had to be replaced.

In the end, the defendant pled guilty to second degree murder before the prosecution rested its case. Justice was delayed for nearly six months, but it was not denied, and the administration of justice had not been unduly prejudiced by any actions of the prosecutor, Gregory C. Butler.

The question, therefore, is why is the North Carolina State Bar going after prosecutor Gregory C. Butler on such a flimsy charge? Why go after Butler, especially when the far more egregious conduct of prosecutor Bill Wolfe in the James Arthur Johnson case is overlooked, despite a complaint filed by the NAACP with the State Bar? The State Bar has not taken the initiative to open complaints against other prosecutors who have delayed and denied justice to defendants who were not guilty of convictions won by other prosecutorial misconduct. The North Carolina State Bar has shown its lack of consistency and its arbitrary nature by opening files on prosecutors who are acting in good faith and committing no misdeeds (Nifong and Butler), and overlooking the vast number of prosecutors whose actions have made a mockery of the justice system in North Carolina.

The State Bar should not waste its time pursuing the grievance against Gregory Butler. It should, in fact, apologize to him for bringing the complaint against him to begin with. In addition to dismissing the disciplinary hearing against Butler, the North Carolina State Bar should also unilaterally and unconditionally reinstate the law license of Mike Nifong to practice law in the state without restrictions.

The Bar’s recent pursuit of Butler reinforces the urgent need for the North Carolina State Bar to be regulated and held accountable for its actions. Its arbitrary and reckless actions have terrorized all attorneys licensed by the state, and dealt a tremendous blow to the principle of equal justice for all.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Selective Justice vs. “Two wrongs”

After recent comments on our blog from Charles, which have been similar to arguments made by other detractors of Mike Nifong for some time, it has become apparent that I need to clarify some very important issues regarding previous statements.

First, when I state that “Mr. Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception in 1933 while other prosecutors who have been guilty of prosecutorial misconduct far more egregious than that which Mr. Nifong has been accused and they have not been disbarred or seriously disciplined”… this is a statement to express the selectivity of the treatment Mr. Nifong received in comparison with other prosecutors. Justice should be delivered equally, and not selectively, as it was in Mr. Nifong’s case with his handling of the Duke Lacrosse case. Mr. Nifong should not be held to a higher standard of practice while other prosecutors are held to lower standards.

Second, when I make the statement in the previous paragraph, I am in no way conceding that Mr. Nifong’s handling of the Duke Lacrosse case was below acceptable standards of practice for prosecutors in the state. I have seen no evidence that Mr. Nifong has done anything dishonorable, disreputable, unprofessional, or wrong with his prosecution of the Duke Lacrosse case. Mike Nifong has a 27 year history of being a prosecutor, and his reputation and service to the state of North Carolina has been sterling.

Third, there has been a lot of talk about how in the Duke Lacrosse case Mr. Nifong has tried to put three innocent young men in jail. First, just because North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper proclaims that they are “innocent” does not mean that they are innocent. Acting as a special prosecutor, the attorney general was out of line in making such a statement. Taking over the prosecution of the Duke Lacrosse case as special prosecutor, it was his job to review the evidence and proceed with the prosecution if he felt that the evidence supported an outcome of guilty. If he felt the case was too weak to be successfully prosecuted, he had the duty to do as all of the other prosecutors in the state and throughout the country have done in the past when faced with a case that had low probability of success… dismiss it. He had no mandate to make a judgment about the Duke Lacrosse defendants, and for him to do so was outrageous, reckless, irresponsible, and unheard of. The second issue regards Mr. Nifong’s mandate. In our system of criminal justice it is mandatory that the prosecutor fight to take away the freedom of the defendant, just as it is the mandate of the defense attorney to preserve it for the defendant. When a prosecutor attempts to take away the freedom of a defendant who is from wealth, privilege and status, it is much easier for the media and public to be up in arms than when the defendant is poor, disenfranchised, and of color. That said, I also aver that there is no evidence to support the claim that throughout his long and stellar career Mr. Nifong has not acted as a minister of justice.

To summarize the position of the Committee of Justice for Mike Nifong:
1) Mr. Nifong was selectively disbarred while other prosecutors who have conducted themselves far more egregiously have not been;
2) Mr. Nifong was selectively presecuted by the state, and the North Carolina State Bar – subjected to treatment that no other prosecutor has undergone, including a jail sentence;
3) The “two wrongs (prosecutorial misconduct)” analogy is not analogous with the State Bar’s selective disbarment of Mr. Nifong because in his prosecution of the Duke Lacrosse case Mr. Nifong did not commit any wrong;
4) The Duke Lacrosse defendants are not “innocent” even though Attorney General Roy Cooper says they are. Such a proclamation was reckless, wrong, and out of line;
5) As a prosecutor in our system of criminal justice, it was the job of Mr. Nifong to try and take away the freedom of defendant(s) he was charged to prosecute; and
6) There is no evidence to suggest that throughout his career Mr. Nifong has not acted as a minister of justice.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wake Prosecutor Tom Ford – No “Minister of Justice”

“After 16 years in prison, a chance: Panel (Innocence Inquiry) will hear convicted killer” is the News & Observer title of an article in the August 13, 2009 edition. On September 3 and 4, 2009, the eight-person Innocence Inquiry Commission will hold its third hearing since its creation by the state two years ago to investigate claims of innocence by convicts. It will help determine the fate of Gregory Flint Taylor, now 47, who was convicted of a 1991 murder in 1993, and was sentenced to serve life.

The victim of that crime was a prostitute whose body was found near Taylor’s vehicle. Taylor stated that his vehicle got stuck after a night of “four-wheeling” and that he had no contact with the victim.

As far as I can tell from the news article, the prosecution’s case was built on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch and what Wake Prosecutor Tom Ford stated was what appeared to be blood on the bumper of Taylor’s vehicle. Evidently the testimony of the snitch was that Taylor and another man (Johnny Beck), who was later arrested as an accomplice in the crime, had been partying with the victim the night of the crime. The snitch stated to jurors that Taylor told him about the victim’s death. Taylor denied this account, and professed his innocence, claiming that he did not even encounter the victim the day that she died. Although the substance on the Taylor vehicle appeared to be blood, the prosecution did not conduct any forensic testing to confirm it.

Four months after Taylor’s conviction in 1993, murder charges against Beck were dropped by Prosecutor Ford, but not after the prosecutor unsuccessfully attempted to obtain testimony from Taylor implicating Beck in the crime. According to court records and news accounts, Ford offered to reduce Taylor’s sentence in exchange for providing statements supporting Beck’s involvement in the murder.

Wake County prosecutor Tom Ford’s actions in the Gregory Flint Taylor case are below the standards of acceptable prosecutorial conduct in several ways. He failed to see to it that forensic studies were performed on what appeared to be blood on the Taylor vehicle bumper, charged Taylor and Beck without probable cause – relying only on the word of a jailhouse snitch, and he tried to entice statements from Taylor to implicate Beck by offering Taylor a reduced sentence. Of these three malfeasances, the last is the most despicable and goes against his obligation to seek truth as a “minister of justice” before seeking a conviction. Without Taylor’s cooperation on this point, it seems as though Ford was forced to drop the murder charges against Beck.

Although actions by Ford were far more egregious than what former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was accused of doing in the Duke Lacrosse case, and the injustice against Beck (and probably Taylor, as well) was far more severe than what the Duke Lacrosse players endured, do not expect an outpouring of rage against Wake Prosecutor Tom Ford by the Attorney General’s Office, the media, or the public. The state of North Carolina has a system of “selective justice based on Class and Color” and unless those tenets are violated (as in the Duke Lacrosse case where Prosecutor Nifong used the principle of “equal justice for all”), there will be no societal ripples of concern, indignation or consternation. Only when the status quo is challenged, as in the Duke Lacrosse case, will the cauldron of passion be stirred. And it will be stirred irrespective of whether or not the cause which incites it is just.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

State Bar “teaching moment” coming to talk radio in September ‘09

Around the time of the September 18, 2009 State Bar disciplinary hearing against prosecutor Gregory C. Butler, the talk radio station WPTF-680 AM will feature a program dedicated to the North Carolina State Bar and its only disbarred prosecutor in its 76 years of existence, former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong is currently in negotiations with the station’s news and programming director, Rick Martinez, to schedule a discussion and debate which will include the Committee’s Lay Advocate Sidney B. Harr as an in-house guest for the three hour “Bill LuMaye Show.” To date, no time has been scheduled in for this program, but as soon as there is confirmation, the date and time of the event will be immediately posted on this blog site, as well as the Committee’s website:

It is hoped that the State Bar’s counsel, Katherine E. Jean, will play an active role in the program. In the event she is unable, for whatever reason, to participate, it is the hope of the Committee that another knowledgeable and qualified representative from the North Carolina State Bar take part. The Bar’s participation will afford listeners a chance to learn about this little known and secretive state agency, which is unregulated, has no oversight, and is accountable to no one group or individual. In addition to questioning its unjust and selective disbarment of Mike Nifong, the Bar could address other issues, including its plans to construct a new building, why it feels it needs to borrow money (a privilege in House Bill 360 that Governor Perdue recently signed into law) and if taxpayers are going to be held liable for these loans, and the financial status of the organization (including the subsidies it receives from state taxes).

For those individuals who read or contribute comments to our blog site (K.C. Johnson, Bill Anderson, Walt-in-Durham, Duke Dad, Charles, Rhonda, and others), this upcoming program will give you invaluable insight and information about Mr. Nifong’s disbarment, and the Duke Lacrosse case. Furthermore, you will recognize that you have long been misguided by the false claims made by the State Bar against Mr. Nifong, and perpetuated and reinforced in the biased media. Hopefully, you will be able to call in the program for a personal discourse with our lay advocate.

While the Committee looks forward to what promises to be a highly enlightening and entertaining event, we believe that the State and the North Carolina State Bar are extremely distressed and alarmed at the prospect. We therefore believe that there is a high probability that the Bar, as well as all state officials, will distance themselves from this program and go to extremes not to join the discussion. Avoiding discourse and debate on the unjust and selective disbarment of Mike Nifong on their part, is not an act of cowardice, but an act of wisdom. That is because the Bar’s position of disbarring Nifong is not only unethical, but indefensible. On the point of their involvement, we hope that we are mistaken, and that the state and State Bar will be as engaged in this project as we are.

However, the Committee would not be surprised if the state even went so far as to use its power and persuasion to try and scuttle the event. Even though the biased media has been solidly against Mr. Nifong, we are confident that a radio station of WPTF’s caliber and reputation will not be swayed by efforts to derail the Bill LuMaye program on the State Bar and its disbarment of Mike Nifong.

Keep tuned to this blog and our website for the latest information about this exciting event tentatively to be scheduled in mid-September.