DURHAM, N.C. – Disgraced prosecutor Mike Nifong didn't show up Thursday at a hearing to consider his immediate removal as Durham County district attorney, a position from which is has been suspended and already pledged to resign.
But Nifong, who was disbarred for his handling of the discredited Duke lacrosse rape case, told the attorney hired to prosecute his removal that he planned to resubmit his resignation Monday, making it effective immediately.
During a brief hearing, at which no one sat at the defendant's table, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said he would reconvene Monday to either accept Nifong's new resignation or issue an order kicking him out of office.
"I'm not going to make a rush to judgment in a couple of days over Mr. Nifong," Hudson said. "This is going be resolved on Monday. ... There is no defense for Mr. Nifong to these proceedings. So, you don't have to guess how this is going to turn out."
Also Thursday, another judge set a July 26 hearing to consider holding Nifong in criminal contempt of court. Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III said he had found probable cause to believe Nifong "willfully and intentionally made false statements of material fact" during a hearing held last year in the lacrosse case.
Defense attorneys for the three lacrosse players falsely accused of rape had asked Smith last week to hold Nifong in contempt, arguing he "engaged in a pattern of official prosecutorial misconduct, which violated at least a dozen laws, rules and court orders designed to protect due process and the pursuit of truth."
If held in criminal contempt, Nifong faces up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
In tear-filled testimony at his ethics trial earlier this month, Nifong promised to resign from office, saying "My community has suffered enough." A disciplinary committee of the North Carolina State Bar later found that Nifong broke more than two dozen rules of professional conduct during his politically motivated prosecution of the three lacrosse players, and stripped him of his law license.
The three players, who had called the allegations against them "fantastic lies," were cleared in April by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. He said they were the innocent victims of Nifong's "tragic rush to accuse."
In his initial letter of resignation, Nifong said he would leave office July 13. That didn't satisfy Hudson, who was already considering a petition to remove Nifong filed by a Durham resident earlier this year. Before Thursday's hearing, he had suspended Nifong with pay and forced him to turn over the keys to his office.
Nifong has already been temporarily replaced by his predecessor, Jim Hardin, who will serve until Gov. Mike Easley appoints a permanent replacement.
Robert E. Zaytoun, the Raleigh lawyer Hudson appointed to prosecute the removal, said Nifong was out of state when he spoke with him Wednesday. He planned to return Monday and refile his resignation, Zaytoun told the court.
Between his earlier offer to resign and the suspension, Nifong has effectively been out of office since he was disbarred. But Zaytoun told Hudson the effort to legally remove Nifong was not merely serving a "academic purpose."
"This is a legal process," Zaytoun said. "While this may be small, it is an important part of putting a legal closing on this case."