Wednesday, September 12, 2007

N&O: Students “may not have a civil case”

The Raleigh News & Observer’s lead editorial today is headed:

Cost of justice

Duke students badly treated by a rape allegation may not have a civil case, but their ideas for improving justice have merit
Excerpts from the editorial follow in italics; my comments are in plain.

The N&O starts off:

Being wrongly accused of rape is no picnic -- let's be honest, it's a nightmare -- but it isn't necessarily worth $10 million. That's what the three former Duke University lacrosse players are seeking from the City of Durham because of the actions of its police department, presumably minus fees to a cadre of lawyers hired to mount a potential civil rights lawsuit.

No picnic indeed! It's especially no picnic when the N&O withholds exculpatory news that you were cooperating with police and instead promulgates the lie that you refused to cooperate and were either a rapists or covering up for those whe were.

And it’s no picnic when the N&O calls the accuser “the victim” and withholds the fact she told the N&O that the second dancer had also been raped.

And it was no picnic when the N&O published the anonymous “Vigilante” poster at a time when the lacrosse players and their families had reasonable cause to fear for the players' safety.

The merits of the reported settlement demand are questionable at best, although reforms that the players' lawyers propose for police and the courts have great merit.

Folks, the sentence you’ve just read is a good example of the arrogance and contempt for simple decency of so many MSM journalists.

For good reasons, there is widespread sympathy for the former Duke students, Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans. Their spring-break team party last year was reprehensible -- hired strippers and alcohol for anyone who showed up, including minors.

But no one deserves to be falsely accused of rape, as the three were by one of the strippers, or to be hounded by a district attorney seemingly blind to any evidence that showed the students may have been telling the truth -- that no assault took place -- and obsessed with winning the next election.

Or to be hounded as the N&O hounded the lacrosse players.

Or to have the exculpatory news of Mangum’s claims about the second dancer being raped and why the second dancer didn’t report it being withheld by the N&O for thirteen months, and only disclosed the day after the players had been declared innocent.

Fortunately, the system worked: Although the students were indicted, the charges were dropped and the three were declared innocent by the state attorney general. The district attorney, Mike Nifong, was disgraced, disbarred, thrown out of office and sent to jail for a day.

The system worked? David Evans grandfather died while Evans was still under indictment bacause of an attempted frame-up the N&O helped launch and sustain for thirteen months.

Who set up such a system? And can't the N&O be sued?

Meanwhile, the students settled a lawsuit against Duke, for what no doubt was an award in the eye-popping range, after Duke had suspended them and canceled the lacrosse team's season in the wake of the charges. Duke, of course, is a private institution and can spend its money any way it wants.

A potential suit against the city is different, since a substantial settlement would put a burden on taxpayers rich, middle-income and poor. Sources told The News & Observer that the demand is $30 million over five years. Subtract $5 million in liability insurance coverage, and that amounts to about $119 in city funds for each of Durham's residents to cover the remaining $25 million. And that's despite the fact that Durham detectives were among the first to tell Nifong his case was weak.

It doesn’t sound so bad, the way Editor Steve Ford puts it. The young men are getting rich. And the Durham detectives were among the first to tell Nifong his case was weak.

I wonder whether it crossed Ford's mind to suggest the City Council commend DPD for it's work on the case.

No, I've got some better question for him.

Editor Ford, if the detectives were telling Nifong the case was weak, why was DPD Deputy Chief Hodge telling the public the case was strong? And why did DPD spokesperson Cpl. Addison repeatedly tell us about this “horrific crime?”

If you're right, Editor Ford, about DPD detectives being "among the first to tell Nifong his case was weak," and, at the same time, Hodge and Addison were telling the public the opposite, could what Hodge and Addison did have anythng to do with the impending suits?

And should it, Editor Ford? Your faithful readers look to you for an answer.

Defendants who are unfairly treated may well have a valid claim for compensation, proportionate to the harm they suffered, if they can show a pattern of official misconduct.

Imagine that. The things you learn reading an N&O editorial.

The N&O goes on with more, including some advice for Durham’s City Council:

The City Council should be in no rush to settle the case for a huge sum to forestall the threatened lawsuit. In fact, the council could demonstrate its good faith by following through with the case review it commissioned under the leadership of former Supreme Court Justice Willis Whichard.

Of course, the city’s insurance company has said if Durham doesn’t shut down the Whichard Commission until the question of suits is settled, it will “walk” on the policy and pay nothing.

The N&O must have "forgotten" about that.

And we all know how easy it is for the “fair and accurate” journalists at the N&O to "forget" things. Remember last March when they learned who the accuser was?

Everyone at the N&O involved in the story “forgot” to check her criminal background for weeks, and instead reported the “frightened young mother new to stripping” lie.

The N&O only "remembered to check" Mangum's background when other news organizations began reporting on it.

The entire N&O editorial is here.


Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Their spring-break team party last year was reprehensible

Not half as reprehensible as an attempt to portray the taxpayers of Durham as 'victims' because their elected representatives bent every rule in the book to convict three Duke students of a nonexistent crime, while the N&O joined the early conspiracy to withhold the wealth of exculpatory evidence from public view.

Accountability, dear Editor. Three Dukies suffered an overwhelming attack on their civil rights and liberties, under heavy color of law and cheered on by the press. Responsible parties in the DA's office and the DPD knew damn well the case was a crock, and pressed on with it for months after even the N&O wised up to that crockery. Exculpatory evidence existed early on, in written form - where were the N&O reporters then? Oh, "we know you know" was such irresistable journalism in those days.

There are heavy penalties for such naked violations of civil rights, and Durham is slowly coming to realize it. It may take the editorial pages of the N&O somewhat longer, but I'm confident that even the editorial conscience will reach a sufficient elevation sooner or later.

Thirty million is cheap for those violated civil rights - just ask Jesse Jackson sometime.

locomotive Breath said...

Young men were interested in beer and women with their clothes off. OH THE HUMANITY!!

Anonymous said...

Hey John -- Somebody was asking me today, and I wasn't sure: Are you a lawyer? You do quite a bit of legal analysis on this blog and we weren't sure.

Anonymous said...

Is Ford this ignorant of the facts of the case? How appalling. Does the N&O have no shame?

Anonymous said...

Does Ford reflect the views of publisher Quarles and McClatchy CEO Pruitt?

Anonymous said...

Of course the N&O doesn't have the best record of determining who has a case.

Brant Jones

Anonymous said...

If Durham does not want to settle on the advice of the N&O, let's go to trial! Let's air out the corruption and racism of the political machine in Durham. Let's get onto the record the actions of Duke University. Duke settled for "eyepopping sums" because they did not want to face discovery and public trial. That is the reason that Durham should settle too.
What a shame there will not be a trial for the leadership of the N&O so that we can see publicly what decisions they made to drive coverage in the early days of this case and why? Bet the N&O would be trying to settle that deal too.
The "It's too much money defense" is an interesting one for N&0. It shows their hypocrisy. The people of Durham voted for their public officials and kept them in office after it was clear that there was not a good case here. They are the reason that race baiting was a winning strategy for Nifong. The idea that they should pay is only justice.

Anonymous said...

The civil right of ALL the players were violated.
Reprehensible...a little strong perhaps, but the players have apologized over and over for there decision. MOST players did not even know that strippers were hired until they were asked for money!!!! It was a very bad decision by a very few!! However it is nothing out of the ordinary for college. At All!
I do not recall any 'real' apologies from ANYONE in Durham who stood by and watched this fiasco unfold.
This is also not about race. It is about justice and civil rights. These players are hoping that changes are made for everyone in Durham. They had the resources to fight back as others railroaded have not. If it hits the Durham citizens in the pocketbook and REAL changes occur then it is worth every single penny!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the aim of the plaintiffs in demanding such a large amount of money is to guarantee that Durham will not settle, and that the truthe WILL come out.

Should Durham settle, for what so many people deem to be such an exhorbitant sum of money, it will show just how determined the leadership is to cover the matter up.

Then, let the populace speak at the ballot box to remove these shameful characters.

Anonymous said...

The taxpayers will indeed be victims of the currupt government they installed.

Anonymous said...

When the Attorney General declared the boys innocent, it was inevitable the boys would file civil suits.
Although the plaintiffs have to show "injury', when you have your mugshot on the cover of Newsweek, when you're videotaped in handcuffs going inside the jail, when you are booked, fingerprinted, and photographed inside a detention facility, and when your life has been hell for the past year, it will be easy to prove "injury".
No one wants a trial, so now it becomes a business decision negotiated between the lawyers representing both sides...just like the settlement with Duke University. The setlement with the City will be much less than the 30 million figure.
At the end of the day, the children in Durham will have textbooks and no one's property taxes will increase to pay for it.
As Jack Nicholson says in my favorite movie Chinatown, "I'm not after your last dime Curl, I only did it to prove a point."

Anonymous said...

Duh.... I thought the voters of Durham already voted.

They just don't like what their votes bought!

Sorry... you had your recall chance. You just forgot to do it.