By Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — Almost a year into his lengthy prison term, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is asking a federal appeals court to toss his conviction and grant him a new trial.
The disgraced ex-mayor, who is serving a 28-year prison term for public corruption, argued in court documents filed Wednesday that he didn’t get a fair trial for three reasons:
— He was forced to go to trial with a lawyer he didn’t want — and shouldn’t have had — due to a conflict of interest.
— The nearly $4.7 million he was ordered to pay in restitution was not authorized under federal law.
— The judge erred in allowing two FBI agents to offer their opinions to jurors about what Kilpatrick’s and others’ text messages meant and how texts and phone calls showed the ex-mayor was involved in crooked contracts.
“Kilpatrick was denied a fair trial because the court allowed the two case agents to testify 23 times and ‘spoon-feed’ the jury the prosecution theory of the case based on the agents’ review of all the text messages, recorded calls, and documents, (which) the jury never had the opportunity to review on their own and to use to draw their own conclusions,” Kilpatrick’s lawyer, Harold Gurewitz, argued in the filing with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 80-page filing focused heavily on Kilpatrick’s longtime defense attorney James Thomas, whom Kilpatrick tried to get thrown off the case at the start of his trial, citing a conflict of interest. Thomas and his associate were working for a law firm that was suing Kilpatrick for the same alleged crimes of which Thomas was defending him.
At Kilpatrick’s request, Thomas asked U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds to withdraw from the case. But Edmunds denied it, noting that when Kilpatrick ran out of money and couldn’t afford a lawyer, he requested Thomas, so he got him. Edmunds also found that Thomas had been a good and effective lawyer for Kilpatrick.
Thomas represented Kilpatrick throughout the six-month trial, which ended with Kilpatrick getting convicted in March 2013 on 24 counts for crimes including racketeering, extortion, and bribery. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Thomas was not readily available for comment.
Two months after the guilty verdict, Kilpatrick officially dumped Thomas, telling Edmunds that “a grave error” occurred in his case and that he needed a new lawyer.
Thomas agreed that it was time for him to step down.
Edmunds appointed Gurewitz to handle Kilpatrick’s case.
“Among the basic duties owed by a criminal defense lawyer to his client are the duty of loyalty, the duty to avoid conflicts of interest, and the overarching duty to advocate the defendant’s cause,” Gurewitz wrote in the latest filing.
Photo via WikiCommons
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