Already facing a 30-day suspension for one professional violation, whistle-blower lawyer Mike Stefani has been cited by a state Attorney Discipline panel for another ethical breach related to the text-message scandal that toppled ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
The three-member panel said in a decision released Thursday that Stefani misled Kwame Kilpatrick's lawyer Samuel McCargo during negotiations to settle a 2007 police whistle-blower case by not revealing he had shared the text messages with a Free Press reporter.
Stefani, a former FBI agent and suburban police chief, was cleared of three other charges of misleading or false statements about his handling of the text messages.
The panel said Stefani misled McCargo, who was bargaining on the basis that the messages - showing that Kilpatrick perjured himself by denying an affair with top aide Christine Beatty - would remain secret. When McCargo wanted to know of the messages' whereabouts, Stefani kept quiet about sharing them with the newspaper.
Kilpatrick was forced from office and jailed in 2008 after the Free Press published excerpts of the messages. The newspaper has never said how it obtained the text messages.
Robert Edick, deputy administrator of the Attorney Grievance Commission who prosecuted the charges, said that Stefani could be seen as "setting a trap for other attorneys to fall into."
"He wanted the information out, but he didn't want it coming back to him," Edick said. "He wanted to have it both ways."
Stefani's lawyer Kenneth Mogill said he appreciated the panel's hard work, "but I respectfully disagree with their decision. I expect we will be appealing it."
In his hearing, Stefani said that neither McCargo, nor any of the other lawyers representing the city and the mayor ever asked whether he had shared messages or what happened to any copies he had made.
"They never asked that," he testified, adding that he felt morally conflicted, but decided it was fair to let McCargo make that mistaken assumption.
The panel disagreed that Stefani was able to walk a fine line.
It was "not a close question," the panel said.
"Mr. Stefani's concealment is not excused by a purported failure to ask the right question," the panel said.
No date has been set for a penalty hearing. Potential penalties range from reprimand to loss of his license.
An earlier panel ordered Stefani's license suspended for 30 days for violating a judge's orders in obtaining the messages.
By Joe Swickard, 313-222-8769, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Detroit Free Press