Sunday, September 02, 2007

Attorney Alex Charns Interview

Because of Durham Police misconduct during the Duke lacrosse investigation, Durham City faces the likelihood Duke students wronged by the police will bring legal actions against the city for damages inflicted on them.

Last Friday, I interviewed (emails) Alex Charns, a Durham attorney and one of North Carolina’s leading litigators in the areas of civil rights violations and police misconduct.

Charns has successfully represented a number of clients in cases involving misconduct by Durham police. He currently represents one of the lacrosse players who was not indicted.

My questions are in italics; Charns’ answers are in plain.

JinC – Everyone I talk to says the city’s in a very tough spot as regards possible suits which may be brought against it. Since last May, you’ve urged the city to investigate certain police conduct and apologize for it. The city didn’t do any of that. If it had, would it have lessened its current liability?

Charns – Yes, definitely.

J – Why?

C – If DPD , for instance, had launched an Internal Affairs investigation of violations of its own procedures during the Apr 4 “no wrong choices” photo lineup with the accuser; and taken some steps to punish the officers involved, that would be evidence DPD and the city didn’t just stand by and do nothing when policies and procedures were violated.

The same would hold if city manager Patrick Baker had investigated, and there had been consequences for those who violated policies and procedures, as well as apologies to the students.

Instead of any of that, the city’s denied wrongdoing. By refusing to admit misconduct by some Durham officers and their supervisors, it’s put itself in just about the worst possible position it could be in today.

J – If the city had done what you’ve been asking it to do, what would we be looking at now?

C – The students would still have grounds for a suit against the city. But the city would be in a position to argue that it wasn’t indifferent to what happened; and that it had acted to stop it. That could significantly reduce the city’s liability.

J – How would any steps taken by the city affect the individual officers who conducted the lineup?

C – They would bear responsibility as individuals for what they did, as they do now. But they couldn't argue, “No one told us we shouldn't have done it. No one reprimanded us,” which they can argue now, and therefore shift responsibility to DPD and the city.

J – Are there other things the city could have done to both “do the right thing” by the Duke students and to limit the extensive liability it now appears to bear?

C – Yes, the city could have admitted that their employees violated city policy by using a fish-in-the-barrel identification procedure, by refusing to consider the possibility that the players were innocent, by refusing to look at documentary evidence that countered their belief in the players' guilt, and by e-mailing and distributing posters stating that the lacrosse team members were either gang-rapists or co-conspirators.

As it stands, it's no secret what the investigators did and didn't do and the city - at the highest level - approved of the wrongdoing in an official report.

J – Final question: I know evidence used during a trial involving a civil suit can later be used in a criminal trial. But suppose attorneys for the three young men take depositions prior to a civil trial and there’s subsequently a pre-trial settlement with a stipulation the terms of the settlement are not to be disclosed. In that case, can evidence taken during the depositions still be used later in a criminal trial?

C – Yes. The way that would work is a judge could find that the sealed records were relevant to the administration of justice and unseal them.

J – Thank you

In May 2006 I first posted concerning Charns’ efforts to get DPD and the city to take some action: “Duke lacrosse: What about the posters?”

Since then I’ve posted more than 50 times concerning his efforts. This post from April 2007, “ATTORNEY: WHERE ARE THE APOLOGIES?”, concerns some of what Charns spoke about in the interview. It also contains links to related posts.

I’ll post again in a few days regarding DPD and the city’s actions and inactions in the Duke lacrosse case.


Anonymous said...

Great Post! Your investigative work continues to spot on! Durham’s City Officials have taken a “what’s best for my own butt approach” rather than what’s best for the City.


Anonymous said...

John: Great interview. Where is the pathetic local press? Why hasn't the vaunted Joe Neff, who did excellent reporting and salvaged some of the N&O's reputation for its early role in the frame-up, conducted such an interview with Charns? The North Carolina newspapers have largely put on a disgraceful performance in what will become a landmark legal case. I guess when the metanarrative proved to be false, the local press lost interest.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Let me add my cheers to those of Baldo and 8:31, in thanks for the investigations of JinC. Having myself once been familiar with the Duke campus in happier times, I vastly appreciate the local reporting that comes from this blog. Many thanks.

Anonymous said...


What a geart post!

You and Charns are pushing for truth.

I appreciate it. That's why I come here.

Anonymous said...

Truth, that is what we have all wanted from the first day. Here we are 18 months later and still do not have it. What a travesty. Thanks John. Your previous poster is correct. We read you for the bits of truth that are coming and will continue to come out daily. There is still so much unknown.

Locomotive Breath said...

Here's a little parody I wrote and put up at liestoppers. Doubt we'll see anything like it in the press.
Durham's silence is sickening


Employees of the Durham City Government: You know.

We know you know.

Whatever happened in the Courthouse and City Hall gone terribly terribly bad, you know who was involved. Every one of you does.

And one of you needs to come forward and tell the public.

Do not be afraid of retribution from the insurance company. Do not be persuaded that somehow this "happened" to one or more "good guys."

Since what the lax team says is true -- that civil rights were denied, trampled on, hidden and buried -- the employees responsible are not "good."

This seems an elementary statement, I know.

But I can see loyal government employees sitting around convincing themselves that it would be disloyal to turn on their fellow employees -- why, the employees who were involved were just a little "over the top." In real life, they're funny. They ignore their work for months to be with their mothers. They share investigation notes with co-workers. They sing gospel.

On this case, they were just a little too power mad, a little too "worked up." It was a scene straight out of "L.A. Confidential" by James Ellroy. Indicative of the times.

The courtroom death threats slung at the defendants, who were lacrosse players? Those were just ... jokes. Ditto for the ugly remarks overheard in the DA's office: "We're f**ked." Har, har.

After all, these people are not just employees, but trusted professionals. The municipal dream.

And the police? They were... just doing their job, for Pete's sake.

I can see the city going down this path, justifying its silence. And it makes me sick.

Because, of all the occupational hazards that must come with government service, one of them should be personal responsibility. And no, trolling on the internet for MILF doesn't make it better.

Unfortunately, because the people are employees at such a fine municipality, there is a tendency to presume that this was an aberration. That these employees are "good guys."

I see it in the references to the "Serpico" atmosphere allowed to flourish at the police station.

I sense it in the "dismay" expressed by Mayor Bell over the "situation" -- the hiring of C. Destine Couch and the (shocking!) serving of NTOs to an entire lacrosse team.

But NTOs are one thing. The implication that this event, is somehow just a normal case that "got out of hand" is just plain wrong.

Railroading is not part of a spectrum of professional duty, the regrettable end game when publicity and votes are ignited by a larger pension and fanned into flames by the activists permission.

No. Railroading is a crime. A very serious one.

Those who commit it are criminals, not "good guys."

I don't know what happened in that Courthouse, and in that DA's office, over in Durham. Ultimately, that will be a matter for the Federal courts to decide. But who was in that cabal is something the public needs to know. Now.

They shouldn't have to wait for the Whichard committee to be restarted.

Every employee of the Durham Courthouse and City Hall knows who was involved.

Until the city employees come forward with that information, forfeiting a false rape prosecution isn't enough.

Shut down the city.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Bravo LB. Very nice job. I hope a copy has gone to Ruth Sheehan - she might get through a sentence or two before she wakes up and turns purple.

Anonymous said...

Keep at 'em.

Durham and Nifong are still covering up.

Duke '77

Debrah said...

Thanks, John.

You always do great work.