Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick faces 10 felony charges
Paul Sancya/AP
In this July 21, 2003 file photo, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, left, listens
as Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm addresses a news conference in Detroit.

Mich. Governor Calling Meeting to Determine Detroit Mayor’s Fate

August 28, 2008 04:57 PM
by Anne Szustek
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is facing a total of 10 felony charges. Gov. Jennifer Granholm is invoking a little-known law that could spell his ouster.

Kilpatrick Subject of Lawsuits, Rare Form of Legal Hearing

Granholm has scheduled a hearing set to take place next Wednesday on whether or not Kilpatrick tricked the Detroit City Council into backing a lawsuit against three fired police officers, only to use the $8.4 million in award money for private gain.

A scantly used provision in Michigan’s constitution allows the state’s chief elected official to rule on the conduct of municipal officials. The last time a Michigan head of state even pondered using it was in 1982, when Gov. William Milliken was contemplating the ouster of a township official who consumed excessive amounts of alcohol.

The Detroit City Council voted in May to have Granholm execute her power to sack Kilpatrick. As Wednesday’s scheduled hearing is not a criminal trial, Kilpatrick does not have to answer questions that could incriminate him. But Granholm, pointing to court precedent, will have the final say as to whether or not the mayor will be able to stay in office

“The governor is the sole tribunal in removal proceedings, with no right of appeal or review afforded the accused. … If the governor acts within the law, the governor’s decision is final,” Granholm was quoted as writing by Detroit NBC affiliate WDIV.

Members of Kilpatrick’s legal team are refusing to show up to the hearing. Attorney Sharon McPhail, pressing Granholm to push back the hearing, call up witnesses or to go for a subpoena, called the hearing a “serious if not fatal blow” to Kilpatrick’s defense, she was quoted as saying by WDIV.

Kilpatrick had fired two of the attorneys he had hired to defend him against the text-messaging scandal. Another, William Moffitt, filed a lawsuit on Aug. 27 against the mayor for $80,000 in apparently unpaid legal bills in Wayne County District Court, which has jurisdiction over Detroit. 

Kilpatrick legal team spokesperson Marcus Reese said early Thursday, “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Moffitt decided to air an administrative issue that is typically handled amongst attorneys, not in a public forum.”

See AP coverage

Background: Kilpatrick’s unraveling

The alleged settlement hoarding is one among many charges against Kilpatrick. He faces eight felony charges related to some 14,000 text messages he apparently sent in 2002 and 2003 on a taxpayer-funded phone to former Detroit Chief of Staff Christine Beatty.

During the summer of 2007, according to findings from an investigation conducted by the Detroit Free Press, the two of them allegedly lied on the trial stand during a “whistle-blower” trial when talking about the firing of Detroit Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown.

On Jan. 23, the newspaper printed extracts of the text messages, which revealed details suggesting Kilpatrick and Beatty had a sexual relationship, and that they had given false testimony during the trial.

After the story broke, Kilpatrick battled with the paper over a subsequent Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, with the case going up to the state’s Supreme Court. The proceedings revealed confidential information that showed the mayor and his Detroit-funded legal team put together a secret settlement of $8.4 million to hush up the three fired police officers about the text messages. Kilpatrick’s charges related to the scandal include perjury, obstruction of justice, and misconduct in office. Beatty herself faces seven felony charges. 

Around the time Kilpatrick’s text-messaging scandal first broke, his wife Carlita appeared at his side out of support.  “Yes, I am angry, I am hurt, and I am disappointed. But there is no question I love my husband,” she was quoted as saying in Newsweek.

In mid-March, The Detroit News likened Kilpatrick’s situation to the scandal surrounding former N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s call girl for $4,300, suspecting the Detroit mayor, like Spitzer, was soon to resign from his post.

On Aug. 8, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox charged Kilpatrick with two more felony accounts, this time with assault, in connection with his alleged shoving of a police officer.  But those allegations were delivered to the disgraced mayor from behind bars.

Judge Ronald Giles ruled on Aug. 7 that Kilpatrick had violated the conditions of a bond agreement by traveling to Windsor, Ontario, in July, sending him to jail. Kilpatrick became the first mayor in Detroit’s 307-year history to become incarcerated while in office. Kilpatrick had shown up to court that day expecting to have a preliminary examination waived, paving the way to an expedited trial on the eight charges he was facing related to the text-messaging scandal.

The Detroit Free Press wrote that Kilpatrick was “once heralded as the bright future of the city that reared him.” But just before Giles sent him to jail, the mayor was begging for forgiveness. “It will never happen again,” Kilpatrick was quoted as saying in the Free Press. “My sons are watching this proceeding, because I asked them to. I told them that I did something wrong.”

Opinion & Analysis: Granholm and Kilpatrick: the ties that barely bind

Kilpatrick and Granholm, both Michigan Democrats, have maintained a tepid relationship during their time in office. Robert Ficano, an executive for Michigan’s Wayne County, told the AP, “Then they seem to have come together to work together. The relationship was professional. They both wanted to be able to obtain certain things for the success of both the city and the state.”

In March, when formal charges were filed against Kilpatrick, Granholm initially refused to invoke her right of executive order to push the mayor out of office. “It’s really important … that we allow the criminal justice system to take its course,” she told the Free Press.

Generally they make public appearances together when local professional sports teams win championships. But Granholm was absent during a June tickertape parade celebrating hockey team Detroit Red Wings’ Stanley Cup victory this spring.

Kilpatrick failed to endorse any political candidate during the 2002 gubernatorial primary. Given that they were in the same party and in prominent offices—the now governor was state attorney general at the time—Granholm’s campaign expected Kilpatrick’s official approval.

During that year’s general election, Republican candidate Dick Posthumus released a memo from Kilpatrick to Granholm suggesting that she populate state offices with applicants from Detroit in return for his campaigning for her. Kilpatrick said that he had written the memo, however did not send it, according to the AP. That political tug-of-war is believed by some Michigan political insiders to be their original source of tension.

Related Topic: Political career of Detroit mayor’s mother remains intact

Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., the mother of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, won a primary election challenge to her seat in August by a narrow margin. As her district is heavily Democratic, she is expected to prevail in this November’s general election.

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