Lacrosse Case a Learning Tool for Lawyers Lawyers in North Carolina are trying to learn some lessons from the botched prosecution of three Duke lacrosse players who were falsely accused of sexually assaulting an exotic dancer.
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Lacrosse Case a Learning Tool for Lawyers

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Lacrosse Case a Learning Tool for Lawyers

Law

Lacrosse Case a Learning Tool for Lawyers

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

While Duke's former coach is out publicizing his book, the story of prosecutor Mike Nifong is being used as a cautionary tale.

As North Carolina Public Radio's Rusty Jacobs reports, it has become an important teaching tool for lawyers.

RUSTY JACOBS: The North Carolina State Bar took away Durham district attorney Mike Nifong's law license for making prejudicial media statements about the players and for withholding evidence from the players' attorneys. These misdeeds were some of the main topics at a panel discussion this week titled: Prosecutorial Misconduct in Light of the Duke Lacrosse Case.

Unidentified Woman #1: Here is your binder. Please pick up a nametag at the end of the table for me.

JACOBS: The event was a chance for attorneys to hear from professors and lawyers including David Freedman, the attorney who represented Mike Nifong at his hearing before the state bar. Freedman says Nifong's fate will have an effect on the way prosecutors operate.

Mr. DAVID FREEDMAN (Mike Nifong's attorney): The prosecutors will spend the last time trying to decide what's exculpatory and what's not, and probably turn over all the material out of the abundance of caution. And jurors will also be aware that just because someone is sitting there, they're not guilty.

JACOBS: Freedman says he thinks prosecutors are concerned the state bar has declared open season on them. Duke University law professor James Coleman, one of the panelists, says the outcome of the lacrosse case was the exception to the rule. Justice is not as swift, he says, in cases involving minorities and poor defendants.

Professor JAMES COLEMAN, JR. (Law, Duke University): Why is it that that is not the way prosecutors and the bar react to injustice in ordinary cases and cases that are not featured on cable television every night, that are not in the major newspapers, that do not involve people who can afford the best of lawyers in the country?

Mr. COLON WILLOUGHBY, JR. (Wake County District Attorney): I think that there have been a few isolated cases of prosecutorial misconduct.

JACOBS: Colon Willoughby has been Wake County's district attorney for 20 years.

Mr. WILLOUGHBY: Every mistake a prosecutor makes is not misconduct. And I think we need to distinguish that between ordinary mistakes that lawyers and judges make every day in the handling of thousands of cases from that intentional misconduct. And that's what we need to focus on.

JACOBS: Willoughby says the lacrosse case will have prosecutors and defense attorneys alike handling cases with a heightened sensitivity for ethics. He says the public will have to be patient because DA's might be slower to take action on cases out of caution.

Panelist Michael Tigar urged the audience to see themselves in the disgraced DA in the lacrosse case.

Professor MICHAEL TIGAR (Visiting Professor of Law, Duke University): The lesson I take is not that Mike Nifong is exceptional, but that Mike Nifong made a serious mistake under pressures that all of us face.

JACOBS: Tigar is a visiting professor at Duke who has argued seven cases before the Supreme Court and represented co-conspirator Terry Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing trial. He told the assembled attorneys that Mike Nifong is a human being who needs their compassion.

For NPR News, I'm Rusty Jacobs in Durham, North Carolina.

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