Political Hay

No Shortage of Contempt in Detroit

Continuing unseemly fallout from the Kwame Kilpatrick case.

By 10.19.09

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Detroit has seen better days. There is a shortage of auto sales, jobs and public money but there is no shortage of contempt charges against attorneys.

Two Detroit Mayors have served since Kwame Kilpatrick was forced to resign in 2008. Yet the attorney who uncovered the conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice scandal which forced Kilpatrick from office is now facing his own contempt charges and attorney discipline actions.

Michael Stefani represented police who blew the whistle on Kilpatrick and his sexual relationship with his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty. The affair came to light in a police investigation of the Mayor's large security detail and irregularities in the Mayor's Office.

Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown was fired. Stefani was retained by Brown and another fired officer. In a deposition, both Kilpatrick and Beatty said under oath they were not romantically involved. More than 1,000 amorous text messages between Kilpatrick and Beatty on Detroit equipment said otherwise. Other texts were to Detroit staff members to come up with retroactive excuses for Brown's firing. Brown and another fired officer were awarded $8.4 million. Part of this deal was to seal the text messages, with Brown to pay back $3 million and Stefani to give up his $2.6 million fee if the text messages became public.

Kilpatrick resigned as part of a plea bargain agreement in which he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of obstruction of justice and one felony count of physically assaulting a Wayne County Deputy Sheriff. He was to give up the pension from being a State Representative and pay $1 million in restitution to the City of Detroit.

Why Stefani is in hot water now is that he violated a judge's order that the text messages be handed over to the judge first and for not telling the judge that the evidence showed the Kilpatrick and Beatty lied under oath. Instead, Stefani putatively leaked some text message content to a Detroit Free Press reporter. Stefani was coy when the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press filed a Freedom of Information Act suit in 2008 seeking access to more text messages.

Ironically, Stefani went to bat for Kilpatrick attorney Samuel McCargo when McCargo faced attorney discipline charges in August 2009. Stefani said he made only four copies of the text messages for him, his wife, his secretary and client Brown. Stefani also said that he had a computer disk version of the damning texts.

Stefani has often denied being the source of the leak and his denials have been wildly inconsistent. Recently, Stefani has admitted he was the source before he was a party to the deal to give the text messages only to the judge.

As a result, Stefani faces state and local action. The result could be nothing, but it could mean up to 15 years in prison and/or disbarment. Stefani is not alone, however. In addition to McCargo, four attorneys for the city face state attorney misconduct charges for how they acted in the Kilpatrick case.

Legal scholars throughout Michigan think that Stefani will beat the rap, but many thought Kilpatrick would beat the rap, too.

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About the Author

Mark G. Michaelsen writes frequently about public affairs.