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When was the last time a group of D.C. lawyers like this lined up for a fight on a single issue? Jamie Gorelick of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and Brendan Sullivan Jr. of Williams & Connolly are on board. So is Roger Warin of Steptoe & Johnson. The heavy hitters are on multiple sides of the ongoing saga surrounding the Duke University lacrosse team. Gorelick, for instance, is representing Duke in a civil rights case brought against the university, the city, and other parties by three lacrosse players. Sullivan is leading the charge for three other players. And Warin, who chairs Steptoe, is representing the city of Durham, N.C., where Duke is located. The legal drama began after a spring break party in March 2006. Three team members were accused of assaulting and raping a stripper who had been hired to perform at the party. Amid a national media storm, the three were indicted, but the case collapsed after the local district attorney, Michael Nifong, was found to have hidden exculpatory evidence from the defense. The students were exonerated, and Nifong lost his license to practice law. Now, the lawsuits are rolling in. “These are what I call aftershock cases,” says Thomas Metzloff, a Duke law professor. Two suits have been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina claiming civil rights violations. They accuse everyone from the city of Durham to Duke University to the local police of misconduct. (Nifong was dropped from the suits after he declared bankruptcy last month.) Already, the complaints total more than 500 pages. The first, Evans v. City of Durham, was filed in October by David Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann, players who were indicted. It accuses the city, the police department, and a private DNA testing lab of conspiracy, negligence, concealing evidence, and malicious prosecution, among other issues. Sullivan and fellow Williams & Connolly partners Robert Cary and Christopher Manning are working for the players. They declined to comment for this article, but in court records they argue that the “defendants, individually and in concert, maliciously conspired to bring charges of rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping against these three innocent students.” Warin and Steptoe partners Matthew Herrington and Michael Vatis have filed a motion to dismiss the case. They argue in the motion that the team members have “failed to allege any underlying constitutional violation by City officials” because they were never tried and because harm to one’s reputation is not a constitutional claim. Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann settled with the university in June for an undisclosed amount. However, three players who were not indicted sued the university in addition to the city and other defendants in December, accusing it of a conspiracy against members of the team. The suit, McFadyen v. Duke University, argues that Durham police improperly took over the case and that the university attempted to hide the fact that its police force had jurisdiction. (The complaint says the house where the party occurred is off-campus but the Duke police have jurisdiction.) Robert Ekstrand of the Durham firm Ekstrand & Ekstrand is representing the unindicted players. The Wilmer team represents the university in the suit, and William Lee, who is co-managing partner of the firm, is the lead trial attorney on the case. Partners Jennifer O’Connor and Paul Wolfson are also handling the representation. “As the university has publicly stated, this suit is another unfortunate result of the misdeeds of former Durham County prosecutor Mike Nifong. It is misdirected against the university,” says Gorelick. “We will aggressively defend the university in this matter.” (The lawyers from Steptoe are representing the city in this case, as well.) Both suits are still in their infancy. Though motions to dismiss have been filed in the first suit, that step is still months away in the second suit. The judge in the first suit has given the indicted players until April to respond to the motions, and a hearing date for the motions has yet to be scheduled. The civil rights suits may be just the beginning. A third suit is in the works from more than 30 other lacrosse players and their families. They’re also relying on a D.C. firm for help. Charles Cooper, name partner at Washington’s Cooper & Kirk and a former assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, says he plans to file suit against the university and the city by the end of February. “We will seek recovery for the treatment — the really shameful treatment — that the players received throughout the ordeal,” says Cooper.
Attila Berry can be contacted at [email protected].

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