Legal Ethics

Did 5 Detroit Lawyers Craft $8.4M Pact to Conceal Ex-Mayor's Perjury?

Five lawyers who helped craft a controversial $8.4 million settlement by the city of Detroit that papered over then-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s perjury in police whistle-blower litigation are now facing ethics charges.

They include not only top in-house attorneys and outside counsel for the city but plaintiffs lawyer Mike Stefani, who allegedly committed a misdemeanor by agreeing to “conceal irrefutable evidence of Kilpatrick’s perjury” in exchange for the $8.4-million settlement on behalf of his client police officers, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Also accused of misconduct in the ethics case are Detroit’s chief assistant corporation counsel Valerie Colbert-Osamuede, her then-supervisor, former corporation counsel John Johnson, and two private attorneys retained by the city, Samuel McCargo and Wilson Copeland II. The Free Press article includes links to the charging documents filed yesterday by the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, which specify the complaints made against the five attorneys.

Overall, as far as defense counsel in the whistle-blower case are concerned, the ethics charges resulted, “in the most part, [from] very good lawyers confusing their duty to the people of Detroit, the city council and the office of mayor with the individual, Kwame Kilpatrick,” says Robert Agacinski, who heads the Attorney Grievance Commission.

The five charged lawyers and their counsel either declined to comment substantively or did not respond to requests for comment from the newspaper.

As discussed in earlier posts, the $8.4 million settlement deal was struck almost immediately in October 2007 after city lawyers learned that Stefani had obtained steamy text messages between Kilpatrick and a top aide. The text messages revealed not only the perjury in the police whistle-blower case but an affair between the mayor and the aide, and the city council apparently approved the settlement without being informed that it was intended to keep the text messages secret.

A jury in one whistle-blower case had awarded two police officers $6.5 million shortly before the settlement, and Stefani reportedly had planned to seek an attorney fees award from the court because of the mayor’s perjured testimony in that case. The $8.4 million also settled a second police whistle-blower case that Stefani was handling.

Hearings in the ethics case, before the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board, are scheduled in July.

Related earlier coverage: “10 Detroit Lawyers Probed Over $8.4M Claimed Sex Scandal Cover-up” “Lawyer Says His Job Was to Keep Mayor’s Text Messages Secret” “Sex, Lies and Text Messages: Mich. Judge Makes Legal Memo Public” “How Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick Struck a Deal in Detroit” “Detroit Text Messages Reviewed in Tort Case Over Exotic Dancer’s Death”

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