Imprisoned ex-mayor deserves new trial, attorney argues

By Dan Sewell
Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) — Imprisoned former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s attorney argued Tuesday that his client should get a new trial, telling a federal appeals panel that the disgraced politician’s trial counsel had a conflict of interest, among other issues that deprived him of rights.

The three U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals judges peppered attorneys for Kilpatrick and co-defendant Bobby Ferguson with questions about how the issues they raised affected the trial outcome.

“That doesn’t sound that egregious to me,” Judge Richard A. Griffin commented at one point during defense arguments.

The defense attorneys each had 20 minutes to try to persuade the panel to throw out the jury verdict from a trial that lasted more than five months.

A jury convicted Kilpatrick in 2013 on corruption charges including racketeering and tax evasion, and he was sentenced to 28 years in prison. Ferguson was sentenced to 21 years.

A prosecutor said during the trial that Kilpatrick turned Detroit’s City Hall into a “private profit machine” by rigging contracts, demanding bribes and even stealing money meant for the needy.

Kilpatrick attorney Harold Gurewitz said his client didn’t get a fair trial for reasons including that his trial attorneys were affiliated with a law firm suing Kilpatrick in a civil case related to the corruption charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goetz countered that the attorneys had an “ethical wall” between the cases and there was no evidence of an actual conflict that affected the criminal case.

Ferguson’s attorney, Susan Van Dusen, attacked testimony from federal agents used by the prosecution, saying they were allowed to use hearsay testimony and present the prosecution’s case over and over on the witness stand.

Goetz again countered that there was no evidence of trial issues affecting the outcome.

The judges didn’t state a timetable for their ruling. Judges Eugene Siler Jr. and Helene White joined Griffin on the panel.

Gurewitz said outside the federal courthouse in downtown Cincinnati that it’s difficult to predict the judges’ ruling based on their questions during oral arguments.

“It’s like reading tea leaves,” Gurewitz said.

He said he’s been in touch with Kilpatrick, who’s serving his time in El Reno, Oklahoma.

“I think he’s anxiously awaiting the results,” Gurewitz said. Kilpatrick’s mother Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, a former congresswoman, sat in the courtroom to hear the arguments but declined to comment.

Her son, like her a Democrat, was elected Detroit mayor in 2001.

He resigned in 2008, and pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in a scandal involving sex with an aide. The congresswoman was ousted by voters in 2010.