Nifong’s exit should be swift

Published 8:04 am Tuesday, June 19, 2007

By Staff
The quote by Kevin Finnerty and reported by the Raleigh News and Observer perhaps best sums up the whole situation involving three former Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of rape.
Finnerty is the father of Collin Finnerty, one of the players. His comment came Saturday after Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was stripped of his law license for misconduct.
Monday’s announcement that Duke University has reached an undisclosed financial settlement with three players also doesn’t make the hurt go away. It can be said again, “there are no winners in this.”
Reade Seligmann, Dave Evans and Collin Finnerty were indicted last year on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense after a woman told police she was attacked at a March 2006 team party where she was hired to perform as a stripper. Duke suspended all three, canceled the team’s season and forced the lacrosse coach to resign.
The allegations were debunked in April by state prosecutors, who said the players were the ‘‘innocent’’ victims of a ‘‘tragic rush to accuse’’ by Nifong. He was disbarred Saturday for breaking more than two dozen rules of professional conduct in his handling of the case.
The players’ families racked up millions of dollars of legal bills in their defense, and it appears likely they will file civil lawsuits against Nifong himself.
Duke said it reached the private settlement with each former student after determining ‘‘it is in the best interests of the Duke community to eliminate the possibility of future litigation and move forward.’’
If there can be any good that comes out of this tragic case it’s the knowledge that abuses of power do occur in our legal system. We can’t help but wonder how many others have been wrongly accused and punished for crimes they didn’t commit. And when we count the victims, and there are a number, let’s not forget Mike Pressler.
Pressler was the head lacrosse coach at Duke for 16 years. In that time he amassed a record of 153-82. His teams earned 10 NCAA tournament bids and an appearance in the 2005 Division I men’s lacrosse championship game. All that didn’t matter when he was forced to resign because of the rape scandal. Today he is head coach at Bryant University, an NCAA Division II school.
Like the players, Pressler has settled the lawsuit he filed against Duke. The terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed.
Financial settlements, no matter how large, fall short of fixing the situation. In a way, it can never be fixed no matter how many zeros there are behind a dollar sign. Duke is on the right track to settle the issues as quickly as possible. But even Nifong’s resignation doesn’t come close to fixing it, and the fact that he won’t step down until mid-July is rubbing salt in the wounds that haven’t even started to heal.
Even Gov. Mike Easley is frustrated there.
Nifong is history; there is no question about that. But the legal system has again failed us because it can’t make his resignation immediate. Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said he has a petition pending before him asking that he remove Nifong from office. He told the News and Observer he does not plan to act on it because Nifong’s self-imposed last day of July 13 would come before the necessary paperwork could be processed to force him out.
The ball is in Nifong’s court again. The least he can do at this point is step down from his office today, not in July.