A judge said he would suspend District Attorney Mike Nifong after learning that the prosecutor intended to stay in office for another month
A judge said he would suspend District Attorney Mike Nifong on Tuesday after learning that the prosecutor disbarred for his handling of the Duke lacrosse rape case intended to stay in office for another month.
Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson also said Monday night he would proceed with a pending request to remove Nifong from office.
Earlier in the day, Duke University announced it had reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the three former lacrosse players falsely accused of rape last year.
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.
Nifong, who was disbarred Saturday for breaking more than two dozen rules of professional conduct in his handling of the case, said in a letter released Monday that he would leave office July 13. His departure date wasn't soon enough for Hudson, who decided to suspend Nifong from office.
"I have thought about the situation, and this is the way I wish to proceed," said Hudson, who initially agreed to allow Nifong to work until next month.
As part of the suspension, Hudson said he would order the sheriff on Tuesday to prevent Nifong from carrying out any duties of the district attorney.
A hearing on the removal request must then be held within 30 days. The judge said he would appoint a special prosecutor to present evidence against Nifong should the hearing take place, which appears unlikely since Nifong has already promised to leave office before then.
"It is my fervent hope that this action will spare this community the further anguish a removal hearing would entail and will allow the healing process to move forward," Nifong wrote in a resignation letter dated Sunday to Hudson and Gov. Mike Easley.
The governor said Monday he would immediately remove Nifong -- who has worked in the district attorney's office since 1978 -- if he could. There was no word on whom Easley will chose to replace Nifong, who was appointed in 2005.
"You are given a lot of power and you can destroy a reputation in moments with just a few words," said Easley, a former prosecutor. "This was much more than a mistake."
Duke suspended Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans after they were charged with raping a stripper at an off-campus party. The university also canceled the team's season and forced their coach to resign.
"We welcomed their exoneration and deeply regret the difficult year they and their families have had to endure," Duke said in a statement announcing the settlement. "These young men and their families have been the subject of intense scrutiny that has taken a heavy toll."
The players' families racked up millions of dollars of legal bills in their defense, and appear likely to file a lawsuit against Nifong.
The players said in a joint statement they hoped the agreement would "begin to bring the Duke family back together again."
"The events of the last year tore the Duke community apart, and forcibly separated us from the university we love," they said. "We were the victims of a rogue prosecutor concerned only with winning an election, and others determined to railroad three Duke lacrosse players and to diminish the reputation of Duke University."
A disciplinary committee of the North Carolina State Bar concluded Saturday that Nifong had lied to the court, made inflammatory statements about the three indicted players and their teammates, and withheld critical DNA evidence from defense attorneys.
Dick Ellis, a spokesman for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, said Nifong will still be eligible for his full retirement benefits -- a pension and health care -- that he accrued while working as a state employee for nearly 30 years.
But because he served fewer than five years as district attorney, he is not vested in a more lucrative retirement system for judges, prosecutors and the director of the courts office.
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