Three former Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape can pursue a civil lawsuit against the disgraced Durham County prosecutor who led the case against them, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Federal bankruptcy Judge William L. Stocks lifted a stay that had protected former District Attorney Mike Nifong as he moved through bankruptcy proceedings. Stocks, a month after hearing arguments about whether the bankruptcy case should delay the civil lawsuit, said in a ruling that his court didn't have jurisdiction to hear many of the claims involved in the civil case.

Nifong, citing a woman's story that she was raped at a lacrosse team party in March 2006, pursued rape charges against Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann. State prosecutors declared the players innocent last year, and Nifong was disbarred and spent a night in jail in the fallout from the case.

No DNA from any Duke lacrosse player was found on the accuser, and exculpatory evidence that genetic material from other unidentified males was found on the woman was withheld from the defense for several months.

Nifong filed for bankruptcy in January, claiming more than $180 million in liabilities, mostly from the threat of pending lawsuits.

The players also included the city of Durham, police investigators and others in their lawsuit filed in October. They accuse the defendants of conducting "one of the most chilling episodes of premeditated police, prosecutorial and scientific misconduct in modern American history."

Three other players also joined together in a lawsuit, and more than three dozen current and former Duke lacrosse players have also filed a third lawsuit, claiming they suffered emotional distress during the prosecution. That third suit does not name Nifong as a defendant.

An attorney for Nifong did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.