“Internet bloggers and cable television pundits have long attacked Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong over his handling of the Duke lacrosse sex-offense case.
“But Nifong only recently came under scrutiny from some of the loftiest legal sectors in the land.
“Early this month, he was adversely mentioned in rulings from two out of 12 U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, with one judge alluding to him as a prosecutor "run amok" because of the felony indictments he obtained from a grand jury last year against three Duke lacrosse players.
“Lawyers view the development as highly significant, since federal appellate courts are at the pinnacle of American jurisprudence, falling immediately below the U.S. Supreme Court in the overall scheme of things.
"I am not aware of any other case from the circuit courts that single out a prosecutor by name to exemplify prosecutorial misconduct," veteran attorney Bill Thomas said Friday. "It is an extremely unusual circumstance. I have never seen it done before in my career of more than 25 years."
“In addition, the online "Urban Dictionary" -- self-described as a compilation of slang words -- has added "nifonged" to its collection of derogatory terminology.
"Nifonged describes the railroading or harming of a person with no justifiable cause, except for one's own gain," the dictionary says.
"It is someone being taken advantage of unfairly by someone without scruples or morals."
“According to the dictionary's Web site, the new word was created "in disdain" of Nifong and "his screwing of 3 Duke University Lacrosse Team members and [his] helping to inflame a tense racial situation for his own glory, ego and political gain." …“Nifong has declined to comment on the situation in recent weeks, except to insist he enjoys more public support than media accounts might indicate.
“In one recent and judicially significant development, his name appeared in a Feb. 2 ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
“The appeals judges concluded by majority vote that international money-laundering suspect Humberto Fidel Regalado Cuellar had received a fair trial and didn't deserve another one, even though certain profiling testimony erroneously was admitted against him.
“Not everyone agreed, however.
“Judge Jerry E. Smith wrote in a dissenting opinion that the case involved "a prosecution run amok."
"Mike Nifong, another prosecutor apparently familiar with the 'win at any cost' mantra, almost surely would approve," Smith added. “Insinuating that Nifong did the same thing to defendants in the lacrosse case, Smith said the government set out to "get" Cuellar for anything it could.”
“The other high-level mention of Nifong also came Feb. 2, this time from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
“The 6th Circuit's reference to Nifong was more of a footnote than that from its sister circuit. It simply pointed out that Nifong faced serious N.C. State Bar charges "for reasons including improper commentary about the defendants and evidence" in the lacrosse case.
"The desire to pander to public opinion has apparently become a 'higher authority' for some prosecutors than their duty to follow their code of professional responsibility," the court said.
“The latter remark did not refer specifically to Nifong, but rather was a general allusion to prosecutors who -- in the court's words -- "continue to disregard the ethical duties of the legal profession in order to increase their 'batting average' of death sentences and other convictions."
“But some contend Smith went too far in his reference to Nifong."I think it's improper for any judge to comment on the merits of a pending investigation," Durham Judge David Q. LaBarre said last week."That's aside from the fact that he would have no first-hand knowledge of the situation beyond what he read on the Internet or saw on TV. One would wonder what motivated him to make that comment."