In the latest dramatic turn in the Duke lacrosse case, the North Carolina bar
has filed an ethics complaint against D.A. Mike Nifong. The complaint
focuses solely on his public statements about the case; anything dealing with
exulpatory evidence or the lineup manipulation is yet to be announced.
Coming as it does, publicly, while the case is still advancing through the
system, one has to wonder what the bar is thinking. The likely answer, at
least for Mike Nifong, is sure to be unsettling.
Keep in mind that the bar does not have to publicly disclose disciplinary
actions. Doing so while a case is in motion is extraordinary, which suggests the
bar is taking this quite seriously.
Interestingly enough, the wheels on this particular motion began to turn March
30th, about two weeks after the rape allegations surfaced. But still, the
question is: why now? Particularly when other cases, just as bad, were not
fast-tracked or the
prosecutors not seriously punished, to the astonishment and revulsion of
citizens across North Carolina.
What we're guessing is happening here is that Nifong has become a severe
political liability for the state bar. With national ridicule of Nifong
extending as far as Saturday Night Live, and with a spotlight on the profession
in the state, that's bad enough. But with serious proposals to end the power of
the state bar to regulate the profession being discussed - at that point, Nifong
goes from an embarrassment, something the bar has managed to overcome more than
once, to a dagger pointed at its own throat.
This likely explains the very public humiliation of Nifong. His case
will be heard by the Discipline Hearing Commission. Our
understanding is that this is reserved for the most serious offenses.
If our reading is correct, then consider the irony: our belief has been
that Mike Nifong used
the Duke case to win re-election and preserve power. The bar is now in the
process of jettisoning Mike Nifong in order to preserve its own.