Michael Nifong may have parted with his freedom as he began his 1-day jail sentence Friday, but he likely won't have to part with much more of his money, said several legal experts who predicted the three wronged Duke University lacrosse players won't get much out of the disgraced ex-Durham prosecutor.
As Nifong walked into a jail Friday after being convicted of contempt, reports surfaced that attorneys representing the three young men cleared of raping a stripper are seeking a $30-million settlement from the City of Durham.
City officials have 30 days to reach a settlement before the players file the suit.
Durham Mayor Bill Bell, city attorney Henry Blinder and other city officials declined to comment on a possible settlement. Nifong's attorney, James Glover, did not return calls for comment.
Although Nifong was not employed by the city, and rather was an employee of the state of North Carolina, sources close to the players said the City of Durham would likely be the main target of any future litigation, under the theory that city officials sanctioned the various indiscretions of Nifong and the Durham Police Department in investigating the case.
While not confirming the $30-million settlement figure, Michael Cornacchia, a Manhattan lawyer representing former defendant Collin Finnerty of Garden City, said that a proposed settlement would seek to recoup the "millions" of dollars spent by each of the defendants in clearing their names. That included three large legal teams, investigators, experts, public relations consultants, travel expenditures and even the cost of drivers to be taken to and from court.
Attorneys for the players said a sizable portion of any settlement or jury award would go to help set up a foundation to protect people from wrongful prosecutions.
"The bottom line is that these boys didn't ask for this," said Deborah Hussey of Garden City, the aunt of former Duke defendant Reade Seligmann of Essex Fells, N.J. "But these boys are going to take this and do some good."
Paul Carrington, a Duke law professor specializing in civil procedure, said going after Nifong would likely be futile. "They can sue him, but he doesn't have any money," Carrington said. Nifong's annual salary was about $111,000.
Carrington said North Carolina law often protects someone from losing his "homestead" in a lawsuit, so without any other major assets, many attorneys wouldn't even bother to seek a judgment against Nifong.
Irving Joyner, a North Carolina Central University law professor, said the disbarred Nifong could reapply for his law license in five years.
"He has to go on with his life," Joyner said. "He's not just going to stop and dry up."