Exonerated Duke lacrosse players seek settlement with legal reforms

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The three Duke lacrosse players who were falsely accused of rape are seeking a $30 million settlement and reforms in the legal process, a person close to the case said Friday, the same day the case prosecutor was due to start his 24-hour jail sentence.

Former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong won indictments against the three young men last year after a woman hired to strip at a lacrosse team party claimed she was raped. The charges were eventually thrown out by state prosecutors, who declared the players innocent victims of a "tragic rush to accuse.''

Nifong was disbarred for more than two dozen violations of the state's rules of professional conduct. A judge also found him in contempt and sentenced him to a day in jail for lying to the court when he insisted he had given defense attorneys all results from critical DNA tests.

The former prosecutor was due to start serving that sentence at 9 a.m. Friday.

The players attorneys, meanwhile, have proposed a settlement with the city of Durham that includes reforming the legal system.

If the terms aren't met, the attorneys will file a civil rights lawsuit early next month, the person close to the case said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the proposed settlement wasn't complete.

Durham's police department helped Nifong secure the indictments, and a special committee probing police handling of the case stopped working last month because the city's liability insurance provider warned that findings could provide material for civil lawsuits.

During a discussion Wednesday with Durham officials, players' attorneys Brendan Sullivan and Barry Scheck stressed that the money they are seeking in the settlement -- about $10 million each for David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann over five years -- must be accompanied by legal reforms, the person said.

The attorneys are seeking the creation of ombudsman positions to review complaints of misconduct about North Carolina district attorneys, and they want Durham city officials to lead the lobbying for any legal changes that would require action by the state's General Assembly, the person said.

City Attorney Henry Blinder and City Manager Patrick Baker briefed elected officials on the settlement discussions Thursday, according to The Herald-Sun of Durham, which first reported on the settlement demands. It said the city has a $5 million liability insurance policy with a $500,000 deductible.