An attorney cited the words of a nemesis of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick - Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy - in arguing today it was lawful for Kilpatrick to use his campaign fund to pay nearly $1 million to his criminal defense attorneys.
At issue at a 90-minute hearing in Lansing was whether the conduct that prompted the legal fees was personal or related to Kilpatrick performing his duties as mayor.
Christopher Thomas, head of Michigan's Bureau of Elections, said Kilpatrick has admitted the lies that resulted in his conviction for obstruction of justice were told "to protect (his) wife and family," and avoid "all that embarrassment." Therefore, it was not proper for Kilpatrick to charge the legal fees to his mayoral campaign fund and he should be fined close to $1 million, Thomas argued.
"There can be no serious argument that covering up a romantic relationship is somehow incidental to the business of carrying out the office of the mayor of Detroit," he said.
But Kilpatrick attorney James C. Thomas — no relation to the elections official - pointed to what Worthy said in 2008 when she brought charges against Kilpatrick resulting from the test message scandal.
"This was not an investigation focused on lying about sex," he quoted Worthy as saying. "The public trust was violated," and "this case was about as far from being a private matter as one can get."
After today's hearing, Administrative Law Judge Colleen Tulloch-Brown requested briefs from the Bureau of Elections and Kilpatrick's attorneys, which can be filed up to Aug. 18. She will then give a decision.
Kilpatrick admitted to lying when he testified in 2004 and 2007 in a whistleblower lawsuit brought by former Detroit police officers who said they were expected to facilitate and cover up Kilpatrick's extramarital affairs. Later release of text messages sent between Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, showed both of them lied when they denied under oath they had a sexual relationship.
Today's hearing stemmed from a complaint filed by former Wayne State University law professor Maurice Kelman who claims Kilpatrick improperly used his campaign fund to pay lawyers who defended him during the text message scandal.
The $976,000 fine sought by the Secretary of State says the $976,000 fine is equal to the amount Kilpatrick drew from the fund to pay lawyers.
Kilpatrick is scheduled to be released on parole Aug. 2 from a Jackson prison where he is serving time for probation violations related to the text message scandal. He is also awaiting trial in federal court on corruption charges.
A 2009 opinion from former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox says an officeholder can use campaign funds to pay legal fees resulting from certain criminal charges, but it depends on the underlying conduct.
James Thomas said the perjury-related charges Kilpatrick faced in Wayne County "related directly to his actions in office," and the use of campaign funds was justified, Thomas said.
Last year, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land offered to settle the campaign finance complaint if Kilpatrick paid a $1,000 fine and reimbursed the state $10,000. The offer was never acted upon.
Today's hearing follows two new legal actions filed against Kilpatrick Monday.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a petition in Wayne Circuit Court demanding that Kilpatrick use proceeds from his upcoming book to repay taxpayers for the cost of his incarceration - at least $12,750.
In U.S. District Court, a lawsuit filed by Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony V. Marrocco on behalf of the Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District names Kilpatrick, close friend and indicted contractor Bobby Ferguson, indicted ex-water boss Victor Mercado, indicted Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller and other politically connected contractors. It seeks to recover sewer costs that were allegedly inflated due to corrupt payoffs.
Earlier, a Wayne County judge ordered that Kilpatrick can't profit from his autobiography, titled "Surrendered: The Rise, Fall and Revelation of Kwame Kilpatrick." It's set for release Aug. 1.
Kilpatrick still owes the city of Detroit more than $800,000 of the $1 million he promised to pay as part of his punishment for the text message scandal.
By Paul Egan, Detroit News Lansing, Bureaupegan@detnews.com, (517) 371-3660
Source: The Detroit News