Claims against Nifong to be heard in civil court

Staff WriterMay 28, 2008 

— Former District Attorney Mike Nifong will not be able to hide in bankruptcy court from the malicious-prosecution claims brought by the three exonerated lacrosse players.

William L. Stocks, chief bankruptcy judge for the federal district that includes Durham, ruled Tuesday that those allegations should be aired in federal civil court.

The ruling came almost a month after lawyers Charles Davant and David Rudolf argued that federal bankruptcy court was not the right setting for the players' claims that Nifong maliciously and willfully prosecuted them.

Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann fought phony gang-rape allegations for more than 13 months before state Attorney General Roy Cooper declared them innocent of the charges in April 2007.

Nifong was stripped of his law license and ousted from office last summer for his misconduct in the case against Duke lacrosse players.

In October, the former Duke lacrosse players filed suit against the fallen prosecutor and a host of others, alleging that Nifong, the city of Durham, the DNA laboratory hired by Nifong and others associated with the case conspired to falsely charge them with gang rape even though they knew that the allegations were "a total fabrication."

On Jan. 15, the day responses to the allegations were due in federal court, Nifong filed for bankruptcy protection, listing his potential debts as more than $180 million -- $30 million each to the falsely accused players and three others if they were successful in their lawsuit against him.

The legal maneuver put all civil actions against Nifong on hold until a bankruptcy judge could sort through the matter.

In late January, U.S. District Judge James A. Beatty ordered that Nifong be dropped from the suit brought by Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann while holding open the option that he could be added back to the case.

Jim Craven, the Durham lawyer representing Nifong, argued in bankruptcy court last month that the players' claims could be decided at much less expense and more quickly in bankruptcy court.

On April 24, Davant and Rudolf asked Stocks to kick the case out of bankruptcy court and back to the federal civil court where such claims typically are heard.

Stocks said in his ruling Tuesday that the bankruptcy court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the bulk of the players' claims against Nifong.

anne.blythe@newsobserver.com or (919) 932-8741

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