Former Duke prosecutor faces additional charges

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The state bar lodged new and more serious ethics charges Wednesday against the district attorney in the Duke lacrosse case, accusing him of withholding evidence from the defense and lying to both to the court and bar investigators.

Mike Nifong -- who withdrew from the case earlier this month -- could be disbarred if convicted by a disciplinary board.

The bar previously charged Nifong with making misleading and prejudicial comments about the athletes under suspicion.

The new charges are tied to Nifong's decision to use a private lab for DNA testing as his office investigated allegations three men sexually assaulted a 28-year-old exotic dancer at a team party last March.

Those tests uncovered genetic material from several men on the woman's underwear and body, but none from any lacrosse player. The bar complaint alleges that those results were not released to the defense and that Nifong repeatedly said in court he had turned over all evidence that could benefit the defense.

"If these allegations are true and if they don't justify disbarment, then I'm not sure what does," said Joseph Kennedy, a law professor at the University of North Carolina. "It's hard for me to imagine a more serious set of allegations against a prosecutor."

The new charges "have significantly increased the chances for a serious sanction, possibly including suspension or disbarment," said Thomas Metzloff, a Duke law professor and member of the bar's ethics committee, which is not involved in prosecuting the case against Nifong.

Nifong's trial on the ethics charges is set for May, though bar officials said Wednesday they expect it to be delayed until June.

He declined to comment Wednesday.

"I'd say any time any charges are filed with the state bar, they're all serious, and we want to make sure we handle them all properly," said his attorney David Freedman.

Citing the conflict of interest created by the ethics charges, Nifong asked the North Carolina attorney general's office earlier this month to take over the lacrosse case.

Nifong dropped rape charges against the three athletes in December after the accuser changed a key detail in her account, but the players are still charged with sexual offense and kidnapping.

North Carolina's attorney has said he will conduct a thorough review of the remaining charges against Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.