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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Duke Case — The Broken NC Justice System

Welcome to North Carolina

Kristin ButlerKristin Butler / Duke Chronicle:
Only in Durham -- This was a sensational week for lacrosse case followers. Among other things, Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson's highly anticipated book was released Tuesday, lacrosse players demanded that Durham pay $30 million to cover its misdeeds and former Durham DA Mike Nifong even did his 24-hour stint in the pokey.

Now as someone who's been inside the Durham County Detention Center (don't worry, I was taking a tour), I can personally assure Chronicle readers that Nifong's time there wasn't pleasant. I realized I was in trouble somewhere between the Latin Kings graffiti and the announcement that ARAMARK, Corp. feeds each inmate 3,200 calories per day for 89 cents. Students who were here when ARAMARK still ran Duke's dining service will understand just how troubling that is. [...]

I wonder how Durham officials expect us to have any confidence in this county's justice system at all. Over the past 18 months we've seen a succession of judges, assistant district attorneys, police officers, city council members and other high-ranking officials (like City Manager Patrick Baker and Chief of Police Steve Chalmers) lining up to support or cover for Nifong. Even newly appointed interim DA David Saacks-who is widely described as moderate and relatively untainted by the scandal-appeared on Nifong's behalf at the contempt trial.

For these highly educated, ostensibly well-respected people to defend Nifong after everything he's done-after all, the man was willing to send three young men to prison for 30 years to save his pension-is a disgrace, and one that reaffirms many Duke students' deeply held mistrust of this county's justice system. That's why I hope settlement talks for Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and Dave Evans will encourage the reforms that city officials have neglected. It was widely reported last week that the three are seeking $30 million from the city, and I hope they get every penny.

But the legal remedies they are pursuing are far more important. By demanding the creation of an ombudsman to review complaints about the conduct of district attorneys, calling for stricter police procedures to prevent tainted lineups and enlisting city officials to lobby the General Assembly for legislation requiring transcripts of grand jury proceedings, the three former players should be commended for thinking of future defendants' rights. With a $30-million price tag, their actions aren't quite selfless. They are, however, much appreciated. [...]
Joe Cheshire / Brad BannonSharon K. Swanson / Metro Magazine:
Open File Discovery, Grand Jury System on Trial -- In January 2007, Metro Magazine published an interview with the family of Collin Finnerty, one of the three Duke lacrosse defendants. In that far-ranging discussion, held in their New York home, Collin’s parents, Kevin and Mary Ellen Finnerty, talked about the impact of this experience on them and their five children. The Finnertys also talked about the lack of safeguards in North Carolina law that allowed this injustice to go unchecked for far too long. [...]

For answers, I met with Raleigh’s Joe Cheshire, the lead attorney for Duke lacrosse defendant David Evans. Cheshire, a fifth generation lawyer, was selected by his professional peers in 2006 as one of the top 100 lawyers in the state. That same year, he was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers. Joining us was Brad Bannon, now best known by the national press as the “DNA buster,” the young attorney who spent days deciphering the tangled DNA evidence that exonerated Finnerty, Seligmann and Evans, while catching DA Nifong in his own net.

The law offices of Cheshire Parker Schneider Bryan & Vitale are housed on Raleigh’s downtown Fayetteville Street in a worn structure with nice bones and a cache of memories. The reception area is decorated with personal plaques that recognize The Best Lawyers in America, and a campaign poster that reads: “For President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.” On the coffee table, a children’s book, Just Say Thank You is mixed in with the magazines. [...]

Open File Discovery ...
The Gell Case ...

An Arrogance Of Power ...
Grand Jury Issues ...
Lingering Questions Require Leadership ...
KC Johnson:
Metro: Cheshire, Bannon, Finnerty -- Kevin Finnerty, meanwhile, raised another issue—the lack of grand jury transcripts. Bannon agreed, telling Swanson, “The grand jury system in this state is a joke. The day of the lacrosse indictments, there were 82 indictments in 96 minutes. And there is no duty to provide exculpatory evidence.”

We already know that Sgt. Mark Gottlieb gave the grand jury deceptive information—according to his testimony in the Bar deposition, he told the grand jury that, from the time she saw Tara Levicy on March 14, 2006, Crystal Mangum was consistent in the stories that she told. That statement was untrue. [...]

Sharon K. Swanson / Metro Magazine:
A Visit with the Collin Finnerty Family [Jan 2007]
Legal Reforms requested for prosecutorial misconduct in Durham & Supreme Court rewrites pleading requirements -- Barry Scheck and Brendan Sullivan, are seeking legal reforms that would facilitate reviews of future complaints of prosecutorial misconduct. These reforms would include the creation of oversight positions to review complaints of misconduct about North Carolina district attorneys, as well as requiring city officials to lead the lobbying for any legal changes that would require action by the state's General Assembly.

Those of us who believe in the American criminal justice system hope that this legal reform movement will spread to other cities and States throughout the country as well as to the Federal Government. The Presumption of Innocence is an empty phrase unless the right of all defendants to a fair trial is unsullied by overambitious prosecutors or media pundits who have poisoned the airwaves with rushes to judgment. [...]
Forum topics of note:
LS forum:
More evidence the Detective's notes are total BS! -- There's something very odd about the Detective's notes in this case (Himan too) - and there is ample evidence there is something very wrong too!

There were FOUR detectives put on this thing from the first day the detectives ever saw Crystal - and they worked into the night. They started showing her lineups that very night (March 16th). They continued showing her lineup after lineup and got frustrated with no one picked after 6 lineups and the last two were even repeated with no joy.

But, here's the problem. Crystal told the Police in her very first interview on March 16th in her house that she saw a picture of Brett displayed in the house!

A picture of one of her attackers!

Yet, when you look at all the detectives notes and reports in the case file - this isn't mentioned anywhere - almost anywhere - it's in Ben Himan's handwritten notes. Sound Familiar? [...]

Bill Anderson / LS forum:
My evening with K.C., Stuart, and the Rest, Washington, D.C., reception for the book

LS forum:
Another Lawsuit, What does Bird-Brain Barry think of this -- Crystal has been making the circuit and shopping for a Civil attorney to Sue!
Ray Gronberg / Herald-Sun [reg. req.]:
Lacrosse case leads off mayoral candidate forum -- Demands for a $30 million out-of-court settlement are stirring up resentment among residents toward the three exonerated players who were caught up in the Duke lacrosse case, Mayor Bill Bell said Monday during a televised candidate's forum.

Bell, who's running for re-election and facing a challenge from City Councilman Thomas Stith, said the people he's heard from since The Herald-Sun reported the settlement demand last Friday don't want city officials to take the deal.

"They said, 'Don't pay them anything,' " Bell said. "They don't feel they deserve anything. They think too much has gone on and they don't see why the city should be involved in paying anyone any type of request such as has been reported in the newspaper."

Stith countered by saying the mayor should give an accounting of his own actions during the early stages of the lacrosse controversy in the spring of 2006.

"If you read the reports that first came out during this situation, [you'll find] that the mayor said he was very involved in the investigation and had oversight," Stith said. "So I'm very interested to see what the mayor has to say, what his thoughts are on whether we are vulnerable in this situation."

The challenger added that Durham needs a government that's both responsive and "follows proper procedures."

The exchange about the lacrosse case led off a 30-minute forum sponsored by The Herald-Sun and local TV station WTVD. The forum was the first of the campaign season. [...]
LS forum:
New H-S article on LAX case, Liestoppers mentioned
Like a herpes infection that has gone into outbreak mode, Nifong enabler Barry Saunders has erupted with some more venom against the lacrosse players.

Barry SaundersBarry Saunders / News & Observer:
They seek payback, not pay -- Only a heartless misanthrope would argue against giving something to the dear, sweet former Duke lacrosse players who have been through such an ordeal.

Why, I think one of them even spent an hour in custody -- not in jail, but waiting for a magistrate to finish his lunch so daddykins could post bail.

The players are asking for $30 million. That seems a bit high for the inconvenience they suffered, but they certainly deserve some recompense. After all, the strippers they hired didn't even finish their hootchy-kootchy dance.

How about a compromise figure? Instead of $30 million, how about a fish sandwich, a Yoo-hoo and a one-way Greyhound bus ticket?

Like a bad rash, the Duke lacrosse case has become the gift that keeps on giving. Settling it is probably the only medicine that will make it go away. Thus, the city should offer to foot the former players' legal fees and promise to reform the dysfunctional cop shop to ensure that no one else suffers what they did.

The city, as councilman and mayoral candidate Thomas Stith said, bears some "accountability" for its role in this mess, but $30 million is far more accountability than is owed to Reade Seligmann, Dave Evans and Collin Finnerty.

None of them went to jail, but I may: If the city settles and pays an exorbitant amount without a fight, I'm going down to City Hall and slap somebody. A jury may rule that enough of an injustice was committed that the former players deserve to get paid, but shouldn't the award bear some relationship to the actual suffering?

What, did they miss the season finale of "Friends" while waiting for a magistrate? [...]
LS forum:
They seek payback, not pay, N&) opinion by Barry Saunders -- Someone tell Barry that if Samiha Khanna [of the N&O] had done her job, Durham might not be on the hook to the 3.
Barry Saunders is like an arsonist telling his victims that they should just be thankful they got out of the burning house alive.

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