Two of the sentences in the statement issued by Durham County District Attorney Michael Nifong yesterday are worth parsing. Nifong was responding to the decision by North Carolina’s Attorney General, Roy Cooper, to pull the plug on the case against three Duke University lacrosse players Nifong had been prosecuting for sexual assault. Cooper did not mince words. He called Nifong a “rogue” prosecutor, guilty of “overreaching” in pressing a case against three people who were “innocent.”
Nifong minced, sliced, diced and pureed his words. At one point in his statement he says, “To the extent that I made judgments that ultimately proved to be incorrect, I apologize to the three students that were wrongly accused.” Translated from legalese into weaselese, Nifong is using a variation of the timeless opening bid to an infuriated wife or girlfriend: “If I hurt you, I’m sorry.” The corollaries to this non-apology apology include: 1. If I didn’t hurt you, I’m not sorry; 2. I’m sorry, that is, only to the extent I hurt you. 3. I concede nothing on the underlying question of whether I did anything wrong. 4. I concede nothing, therefore, on the question of whether there’s any reasonable or legitimate connection between what I did and your hurt feelings. 5. So, get over it already. 6. Do you want to rent a movie?
The other Nifong sentence of note reads: “It is my sincere desire that the actions of Attorney General Cooper will serve to remedy any remaining injury that has resulted from these cases.” Translation: “Please don’t sue me.” Corollary: It’s an excruciating burden to have your career on hold, your future imperiled, your reputation ruined, your family’s finances stretched to the breaking point by legal expenses, all because some zealous lawyer is determined to transform a murky situation into a prolonged court case. It’s an excruciating burden, that is, if you’re an in-over-your-head prosecutor. If, on the other hand, you’re a college kid . . . do you want to rent a movie?