‘Until Proven Innocent’ Demonstrates Duke Administration’s Failures

October 17, 2007

HBO announced a couple of weeks ago that it will make a movie based on KC Johnson’s and Stuart Taylor’s excellent book Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. The book is a comprehensive review of the frightening abuses of due process by Durham’s District Attorney Mike Nifong—which have prompted a lawsuit from the falsely accused students—and the gullible reactions of the media, the Duke faculty, and the Duke administration.

FIRE could not take the Duke case because it was in the realm of criminal law and a matter of prosecutorial malfeasance more than a matter of university malfeasance. It also clearly required a full-time investigation of all the facts—beyond the capability of our fairly small public advocacy group to handle. However, with the release of Until Proven Innocent, we would like to take the opportunity over the next few days to discuss the shameful actions of Duke’s administration because they demonstrated the same arrogance and cowardice we find so destructive and all too common in university administrations.

The book is disturbing for what it says about potential abuses in our legal system, but it’s about equally disturbing for what it says about our universities. That a rogue DA violated so many tenets of due process to gain reelection is deplorable, but such selfish and illegal acts are not unheard of. For those acts, there are remedies available. Nifong has been disbarred and faces additional charges for prosecutorial misconduct. However, Nifong’s efforts could have been frustrated if the Duke faculty and, particularly, the Duke administration had stood by their students, or at least called out Nifong on his blatantly unethical public statements. Instead, Duke President Richard Brodhead and his goons made a habit of pandering to hostile faculty members and demonizing the accused students and other, unindicted lacrosse players, even after it became abundantly evident that no rape had taken place.

Brodhead cannot claim innocent ignorance as an excuse. He had ample opportunity to examine the evidence. A North Carolina “open discovery” law required that Nifong turn over all evidence to the defense. The defense offered it to Brodhead. Not only did he refuse to examine it, he refused to assign anyone to examine it. Brodhead also refused to meet with Bob Ekstrand, a lawyer for the lacrosse team, to discuss Nifong’s ethical violations. In such an important case with so much at stake for Duke students, willful ignorance on the part of Duke’s administration is deplorable.

As Johnson and Taylor write, “Nifong, hoping to divert attention from the powerful proof of innocence in the soon-to-be public DNA tests, could hardly have hoped for a more obliging helper than Richard Brodhead.” Due process and legal fairness could hardly fear a worse quisling.

Schools:  Duke University