DURHAM, N.C. – Mike Nifong sent his second resignation letter to Gov. Mike Easley just 67 minutes before a Superior Court judge was to resume a hearing on his ouster as district attorney.
The two-paragraph letter, announcing the suspended district attorney’s immediate resignation, came across a fax machine in the governor’s office at 9:53 a.m. EDT. Nifong stated his reasons for not waiting until July 13 to leave office, a timeline laid out in his first resignation letter two weeks earlier.
“It was my hope at that time to facilitate a professional transition to a new administration for the fine people who work for the Durham District Attorney’s Office,” Nifong said in his Monday announcement. “The circumstances that have arisen since my initial letter of resignation have made it clear that such an effort is no longer either necessary or practical.”
The Monday resignation brought to a close another unusual chapter in the fallout from Nifong’s handling of the Duke lacrosse case.
Orlando Hudson, the chief resident superior court judge, decided not to act on a Durham woman’s petition to have Nifong removed from office.
Beth Brewer asked Hudson in February to use his judicial power to oust Nifong, saying his misconduct in the lacrosse case had been prejudicial to justice in Durham County.
Hudson postponed any action on the petition until after the N.C. State Bar held its disciplinary hearing against Nifong.
A three-member disciplinary panel found Nifong guilty on June 16 of intentionally and repeatedly lying and cheating during his prosecution of the lacrosse case.
The Bar is in the process of stripping Nifong of his law license, a disbarment recommended by the disciplinary panel.
Although Nifong is out of office, Brewer is upset that Hudson did not rule in her favor Monday.
“It sticks in our craw that he would wait 97 days from the time he was supposed to act before acting and then let the man resign,” said Betty Tenn Lawrence, the Asheville lawyer representing Brewer.
During a brief hearing Monday morning in a Durham County courtroom, Lawrence told Hudson she worried that letting Nifong resign might keep the door ajar for him to return to elected office.
Once Nifong is officially disbarred, he could ask the N.C. State Bar five years later to return his license.
If the Bar granted Nifong a license, Lawrence said, he could seek the district attorney’s office again.
“Woe be it to the people of Durham County is they are fooled again,” Hudson said. “I do not believe Mr. Nifong will ever be elected district attorney of Durham County or any other county again.”
While Lawrence conceded that Hudson was probably right, she hypothesized that Nifong could be appointed to office again by a governor.
“What governor of what state?” Hudson interrupted.
Robert E. Zaytoun, the Raleigh lawyer whom Hudson appointed as prosecutor of the ouster petition, encouraged the judge to halt the termination procedure. Nifong’s resignation had achieved the goal of the petition, Zaytoun said.
“There is no sanction to be issued against Mr. Nifong here,” Zaytoun explained after the hearing. “The purpose of this proceeding was to simply see that he was no longer in office. My job is done. You’re hearing of the rising of the phoenix. I do not believe that will happen.”
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