Duke reaches settlement

3 falsely accused players get financial deal

school avoids lawsuits

College lacrosse

June 19, 2007|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun reporter

For months, members of Duke's men's 2006 lacrosse team and their families quietly seethed at university administrators and faculty members who they believed abandoned them when three players were falsely accused of rape.

Yesterday, the three men who were accused - they were declared innocent by the North Carolina attorney general in April - reached financial settlements that will eliminate the possibility of lawsuits by the former players against Duke.

Neither Duke nor former teammates David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty would disclose details of the settlements, but a Duke official said there was "a financial component."

John Burness, a Duke senior vice president, said yesterday, "I have nothing to report" on whether the university might now discuss settlements with other current or former team members.

Even though they were not charged, the other team members and their families spent millions of dollars in attorneys' fees because they faced legal uncertainty while the district attorney investigated the case.

The Sun reported in April that some parents of Duke lacrosse players had informally asked the university during a late February meeting whether the school would pay for legal fees. The university said the request was under discussion.

In a statement, Duke said it settled with the three "to eliminate the possibility of future litigation and move forward." It said it had resolved "to bring the Duke family together again."

The players were charged after a stripper alleged that she had been pulled into a bathroom and raped during a March 13, 2006, party off campus.

Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed the charges in April, saying the stripper contradicted herself and that "we believe these three individuals are innocent."

Durham County District Attorney Michael B. Nifong was disbarred Saturday for violating rules of professional conduct. He announced that he planned to resign.

Parents and lacrosse team supporters said Duke officials initially misled them about the university's position, privately assuring them that they believed players' claims of innocence but undercutting the team publicly by making critical comments and forfeiting games.

A March 25, 2006, statement from Duke president Richard H. Brodhead particularly bothered some parents.

"Physical coercion and sexual assault are unacceptable in any setting and have no place at Duke," the statement began. It went on to note that "people are presumed innocent until proven guilty."

Duke lacrosse parents said their sons lost most of a season and that their reputations were damaged during the ordeal. The university suspended the season after six games. The team did not resume play until this year.

In a statement yesterday, the three former players who were accused said they, too, want to "bring the Duke family back together again."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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