Lawyers for three former Duke lacrosse players asked a judge yesterday to find Mike Nifong, the former district attorney, in criminal contempt of court.

A finding of contempt could land Nifong in jail.

The motion was filed with Durham Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III, who has been assigned to the lacrosse case.

The lawyers said that Nifong had engaged in a pattern of official misconduct that violated at least a dozen laws, rules and court orders designed to protect due process and the pursuit of truth.

The district attorney withheld DNA evidence favorable to their clients despite repeated requests for the evidence, the defense attorneys wrote. For seven months, they said, Nifong repeatedly made false statements to the court and others about the DNA evidence.

"Mr. Nifong knowingly played a game of hide and seek and seek and seek and seek with the defendants and the court," the motion said.

"Mr. Nifong's pattern of prosecutorial misconduct regarding the DNA evidence in this case is so extensive - and occurred across so much time and on so many different fields of legal and ethical obligation - that the sheer scope of it shocks the conscience and defies any notion of accident or negligence."

The three players were accused of assaulting a stripper at a team party. The state attorney general subsequently dismissed the charges and declared the players innocent.

The defense lawyers are also asking Judge Smith to assess Nifong fees for the 60 to 100 hours of work it took defense lawyer Brad Bannon to ferret out hidden test results in 1,844 pages of DNA documents.

A bar disciplinary panel ruled June 16 that Nifong had made inflammatory and prejudicial comments about the Duke lacrosse case. The panel also found that Nifong had intentionally withheld the favorable DNA evidence and then lied about it to court officials.

Nifong was suspended this week by Judge Orlando Hudson, the county's chief resident Superior Court judge.

The N.C. State Bar is in the process of disbarring the veteran prosecutor, but Nifong will not be officially stripped of his license until 30 days after a written order is entered.