The Michigan Attorney Discipline Board cleared one attorney but found another guilty of professional misconduct in connection with the Kwame Kilpatrick text message scandal, in decisions released today.
Complaints were dismissed against Wilson Copeland, a private Detroit attorney who was hired to represent the city in a whistle-blower lawsuit brought by former Detroit police officers.
A separate hearing panel also cleared former Detroit Corporation Counsel John E. Johnson Jr. on some professional misconduct charges, but found he violated the rules of conduct when he knew the city gave an inaccurate response to a Freedom of Information Act request related to the lawsuit settlement but did not order his subordinate, Assistant Corporation Counsel Valerie Colbert-Osamuede, to correct the problem.
"The unfortunate results of Mr. Johnson's inattention and failure to supervise Ms. Colbert-Osamuede were misleading and inaccurate FOIA responses, false statements being made in pleadings and papers filed with the court by the city, false statements being made to a judge, an unnecessary FOIA lawsuit against the city..."
Johnson was cleared in connection with an allegation he did not fully inform the Detroit City Council about the details of the whistle-blower settlement, which included a secret deal to keep under wraps text messages revealing perjury by former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty, and a sexual relationship between Kilpatrick and Beatty.
The panel of volunteer lawyers deciding Johnson's case, which included Kenneth Chadwell, Margaret Costello and Chairman Chester Kasiborski Jr., accused Attorney Grievance Commission lawyers with failing to present evidence to prove the majority of the allegations.
They also found Johnson likely committed professional misconduct for failing to inform Judge Michael Callahan, who oversaw the whistle-blower lawsuit trial, that the cop's attorney, Michael Stefani, violated the court's order by obtaining the text messages after the trial. But the Attorney Grievance Commission never charged Johnson with this violation and the panel ruled it would be unfair to charge him now.
The panel also accused the Detroit City Council of not being inquisitive about the $8.4 million settlement and reasoned there was no evidence the council would have voted differently even if it had been told the text messages were a secret part of the settlement because there was no evidence that keeping Kilpatrick's messages secret cost the city anything extra.
"Petitioner failed to prove that the Detroit City Council had any interest in the reasons the settlement was being recommended," the panel wrote.
Although the panel accepted that Johnson had a duty to inform City Council as his clients and Johnson admitted in written statements, "he did not advise any council members of the existence of the text messages and the effect that they had on parties' decisions to negotiate a settlement," the panel ruled the Attorney Grievance Commission failed to prove what information the City Council had when it approved the $8.4 settlement on Oct. 23, 2007.
Copeland's hearing panel, which included Maria Zagorski, Phillip Green and Chairman James Wynne, determined Copeland couldn't be held responsible for the failure to inform City Council about the secret part of the settlement -- but Johnson and Colbert-Osamuede "breached their duties of disclosure toward the City Council."
This panel's findings against Colbert-Osamuede and Johnson have no formal impact on the decisions of the panels handing Johnson and Colbert-Osamuede's cases.
"Ms. Colbert Osamuede and John Johnson were both fully knowledgeable about all aspects of the settlement including the confidentiality agreement. They were the attorneys who had a duty to speak and be forthcoming before the City Council when the opportunity for settlement approval was at hand," wrote Copeland's panel in the decision released today.
Telephone and e-mail messages left for Copeland and Johnson were not immediately returned.
Five attorneys were charged with professional misconduct in connection with the city's $8.4 million settlement of whistle-blower lawsuits brought by three former Detroit police officers.
Kilpatrick had said he planned to appeal a jury verdict awarded to two of the officers, but the city settled the case plus a separate case involving a third officer after Stefani told the city's lawyers he had obtained the incriminating text messages.
Stefani and Samuel McCargo, a private attorney who was hired by the city to represent Kilpatrick in the whistle-blower case, were earlier found guilty of misconduct. Like Johnson, they await their punishments, which could range from a reprimand to disbarment. A hearing over the charges filed against Colbert-Osamuede is ongoing.
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Source: The Detroit News