Last Duke lacrosse lawsuit settled

Jul. 08, 2014 @ 11:23 AM

Nearly seven years after its filing, lawyers have resolved the last of the three lawsuits spawned by the Duke lacrosse case.

Court documents indicate that Duke University and three members of the school's 2005-06 men's lacrosse team settled through mediation the former players' claims against the school.

A parallel filing from the players' lawyer, Durham attorney Bob Ekstrand, said they were also terminating proceedings against the city government and its officials.

"We're just gratified the whole thing is over," said Kim Rehberg, the senior assistant city attorney who coordinated the city's defense.

The players involved in the lawsuit -- Ryan McFadyen, Breck Archer and Matt Wilson -- were investigated by police in 2006 but never charged with a crime after stripper Crystal Mangum alleged she'd been attacked at a team party.

Three other former players who were indicted and later exonerated also sued the city, but settled the case out of court in May. City officials as part of that deal agreed to make a one-time, $50,000 payment to the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission.

The choice alluded to the fact that Mangum's allegations were false, as none of the physical evidence prosecutors from N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper's office examined matched up to her claims.

The resolution with the McFadyen group of un-indicted players didn't require any payment by the city. "It was a walkaway," Rehberg said, using a term lawyers apply to cases that are simply dropped.

The terms of any deal between McFadyen, Archer and Wilson and Duke remain undisclosed. Ekstrand couldn't be reached for comment, and Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said only that "the parties have resolved their differences."

A third lawsuit, filed against the city and Duke by 38 former players who weren't indicted, was dropped last year soon after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a lower-court ruling that gutted much of the legal rationale for the litigation.

The indicted players -- David Evans, Colin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann -- had the option under the ruling of pursuing a malicious-prosecution case against the two Durham Police Department detectives who investigated the team.

But their lawyers earlier this year told a federal trial judge they'd launched settlement talks with the city and expected to wrap them up quickly.

Ekstrand initially played his cards closer to the vest, leaving open the possibility of taking a case to trial. City lawyers countered by trying to convince the judge, U.S. District Court Judge James Beaty Jr., to throw it out of court.

The late-2012 ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left Ekstrand's clients the option of only pressing against the city a relatively novel claim invoking the North Carolina constitution's due process guarantees.

State courts did not intend that there be a "wild card" to keep a lawsuit alive "simply because no other valid legal theory exists to support a claim," the city's lawyers told Beaty via a June filing.

All three of the lawsuits argued, in essence, that police and city officials conspired with former District Attorney Mike Nifong to bolster charges by Mangum that were obviously flimsy.

Ekstrand's clients and the group of 38 also argued that Duke officials contributed to the prosecution, by among other things relaying to investigators what the players told them supposedly in confidence.

Cooper exonerated the indicted players in 2007. They settled out of court with Duke before suing the city later that year. Ekstrand's clients filed their lawsuit late in 2007 and the 38-player group followed early in 2008.

Beaty accepted Ekstrand’s dismissal request on June 24 — as it happened, 11 days before the death of one of the two detectives who handled the case.

Former Sgt. Mark Gottlieb died over the holiday weekend and will be buried this week in Raleigh.

Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith confirmed a report of Gottlieb’s death, and said “several officers” from the Durham Police Department are planning to attend the funeral.

Smith could not confirm reports in other quarters regarding the circumstances of the former sergeant’s passing, which occurred in Georgia, where he moved after leaving the Durham department.

“The people who knew him obviously are a little stunned,” Smith said. “I’m more concerned about his family right now than anything.”