Saturday, June 16, 2007
Posted by Alan Childress
The AP wire story here. It is reported as the panel having "disbarred" him. I wonder if that is premature since this is just the bar panel first hearing the matter. On the other hand, "Nifong will not appeal the punishment, his lawyer said." Maybe that gives it some immediate effect, though even then it would seem to await the end of the appeal period (e.g., just in case a client in this position might want to appeal despite his attorney's statement). Yet it would be hard now for him to take that back and appeal it, and I doubt the attorney said that without having run it by the client [unlike Angelina Jolie's?], so it seems this will result in a disbarment. Perhaps he is readying himself as best as possible for a reinstatement petition a few years from now. If so, his attorney may want to file a consent discipline formally in lieu of an appeal, and not just "not appeal."
In the abstract and as the world perhaps should be, it seems the right punishment for the admitted and obviously proven offenses. On the other hand, there is some history in bar discipline across the nation that would suggest that similar prosecutorial misconduct goes less punished, generally. It may be the right decision, but is it also possible that the N.C. bar [maybe even understandably] is doing some of what it accuses Nifong of doing: treating a case differently than it might have otherwise because it has gone public and taken a political life of its own? Do not some of the handwringing statements quoted from the bar seem designed for public consumption, more so than the usual panel finding? My query probably overstates the reality that Nifong created much of the "life of own" of his prosecution, and made the statements in the press not as part of a regular process like issuing a bar decision. But my experience is that bar boards don't decide cases in a day (or really, a year), write such strong statements, or slam prosecutorial overreaching this efficiently or thoroughly. I think they should in many cases, but this one is just more public than most.
Even if there is something political in the board's result and speed here, it is certainly a wake-up call to "rogue prosecutors" everywhere. And I predict that later bars will not be able to honor so readily the tradition of easily forgiving the prosecutorial misconduct they often find, as just overzealous public protection.