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Ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick Appeals Corruption Conviction

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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Kayaker Tells Border Patrol He Wasn’t Sneaking Into U.S.

By Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — A Canadian kayaker has landed in legal hot water in the U.S. after giving border agents this excuse for stopping along the Detroit River bank: He had to relieve himself.

Turned out, records state, the man with the inflatable blue kayak didn’t really have to take a bathroom break but was trying to sneak into the country.

According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Jack Bishop, 48, a registered sex offender with a lengthy rap sheet in Canada, was caught Thursday roaming in a “no trespassing” zone known for criminal activity near historic Fort Wayne. It was almost noon. Two Border Patrol agents had received a radio call about a long-haired white male who looked “like a possible homeless man” near West Jefferson, the complaint said.

The agents entered through a hole in a gate to scope out the scene, which is full of foliage, when they came upon a man in a life preserver next to a blue inflatable kayak, the complaint said.

They asked what he was doing in the private, restricted area. He said he was a Canadian citizen who was “out on his kayak and had the urge to urinate, so he decided to make entry into the United States and find a place to relieve himself,” the complaint said.

The man, records show, also admitted to entering the country illegally. The agents arrested him for it, and quickly learned that Bishop was a felon from Canada who had tried to sneak into the country in the same location in April, the complaint said.

Bishop, meanwhile, changed his story when he was brought to the Detroit Border Patrol Station following his arrest. He said he did not enter illegally “to relieve himself,” but that he actually was playing three-card poker at the Motor City Casino.

Bishop has no criminal history in the U.S., although records show he has an extensive criminal record in Canada, where he has served time for robbery with violence, breaking and entering and theft in Chatham, Ontario. He’s also a convicted sex offender.

In 2006, Bishop was denied entry at the Detroit-Windsor tunnel for fraudulent misrepresentation and was permanently barred from the U.S. He is in jail pending a June 25 arraignment on unlawful re-entry charge. Bishop consented to detention on Thursday.

His court-appointed lawyer, Jill Price, was not readily available for comment.

Photo: K38 Rescue via Flickr

Judge Dismisses State’s First Witness In Gay Marriage Trial

By Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — In a bombshell development, a federal judge just threw out the state’s first witness in Michigan’s gay marriage trial on Monday, concluding the Princeton-educated philosophy expert had nothing to offer in this case.

“He’s very eloquent … but right now, all he is offering to us is mainly his opinions,” U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said of the witness. “The court does not believe … that he should be allowed to testify.”

This came as a blow to the state in the case, in which two female nurses are seeking to overturn Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage so that they can marry and adopt each others’ children.

The state had planned on having its first witness — Sherif Girgis — on the stand for up to two hours. Prior to getting dismissed, Girgis spent about 20 minutes on the stand listing his credentials, most of which included lecturing and writing academic papers on the philosophical debate surrounding the definition of marriage. He also has written a book, “What is Marriage, Man & Woman in Defense.”

But Friedman dismissed the witness following arguments from the plaintiffs side, who noted that Girgis is not a lawyer, child development expert, psychologist or expert in Michigan law. He has no experience in the issues that matter in this case, the plaintiffs argued.

Friedman agreed.

The state, meanwhile, is preparing to put its second witness on the stand: sociologist Mark Regnarus, who is likely to be the most controversial witness to testify in the case.

Regnerus, a University of Texas sociologist, published a 2012 study on family structure that has been condemned by social scientists and psychology groups as misleading and irrelevant. Regnarus has asserted that differences exist between children of parents who have had same-sex relationships and those with married moms and dads, the former faring worse.

The state is counting on Regnarus to help bolster its argument that marriage should be defined as a man and a woman, and that children are best off raised by a mom and a dad.

Voters banned same-sex marriage in 2004. The state argues the voters have already spoken on the issue, and their decision should stick.

AFP Photo/Joel Saget

Testimony Begins In Trial On Michigan’s Gay-Marriage Ban

By Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — The fate of Michigan’s gay-marriage ban is officially in the hands of a federal judge, who on Tuesday heard opening statements in a case that will decide what marriage means in Michigan, and whether voters have a right to exclude gays and lesbians from forming that union and raising a family.

Voters in Michigan have already voted against gay-marriage — a point that state attorney Kristin Heyse hammered away in her opening statements. She argued it is not irrational for voters to want to define marriage as being a union only between a man and a woman. Nor is it irrational for the state to want to preserve the traditional family structure: a mom and a dad.

But same-sex marriage proponents argue the ban is unconstitutional and needs to be overturned.

“Our marriage ban did not happen in a vacuum: The proponents of the ban fully intended to exclude this politically unpopular group,” argued Carol Stanyar, one of several lawyers who is fighting to overturn Michigan’s bans on same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption.

On the latter point, Stanyar argued that no other group has to undergo a competency test to have children, and that gays and lesbians shouldn’t, either. She also stressed repeatedly that there is no proof that same-sex couples aren’t just as loving and nurturing as heterosexual parents, nor that kids raised by gays and lesbians fare worse than those raised by heterosexuals.

Stanyar is representing two female nurses who are fighting for the right to marry and adopt each others’ children.

“It’s hard to imagine how the adult plaintiffs in this case could be contributing any more. They took in babies who were left behind,” Stanyar told U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman. “These two women are heroes. And they’re not alone. All these families should be embraced. They should be supported. They should be celebrated.”

To bolster that argument, Stanyar offered the testimony of David Brodzinsky, a seasoned psychologist and child development expert who has researched adoption and family structure for more than three decades.

Brodzinsky testified that the psychological well being of kids raised by same-sex parents is the same as those raised by heterosexuals. He also testified that family structure has no impact on how well-adjusted a child is.

Before Brodzinsky took the stand, Heyse urged the judge not to believe everything the plaintiffs experts say, and to uphold the will of the voters.

To overturn the will of the people, the court must conclude that being raised by a mother and a father is inconsequential,” Heyse said. “This court should not rush to determine that mothers and fathers are replaceable or dispensable.”

Heyse also noted: “We recognize that not all children can be raised by a mom and a dad; but that doesn’t mean that shouldn’t be the goal or ideal.”

But voters shouldn’t be allowed to pass discriminatory laws, either, argued attorney Michael Pitt, who is representing an Oakland County clerk who believes gays and lesbians are unfairly being denied marriage certificates.

“If the people of the state of Michigan had voted to ban interracial marriages, I don’t think we would be here today.”

Unlike the last gay-marriage hearing in Detroit, which drew just one protester opposed to gay marriage, Tuesday’s trial drew a crowd of 40 demonstrators who marched and held signs in front of the federal courthouse in support of traditional marriage. The group included teenagers and adults who said they wanted the judge to know that there are people who are opposed to same-sex marriage and parenting. Some said it bothered them that no one demonstrated at a court hearing in the fall, so they came out in bigger numbers today.

“We’re here simply for traditional marriage,” said Rex Evans, of the Free Will Baptist parish in Ypsilanti. “We don’t hate anyone. We’re just here to voice our views on traditional marriage.”

Photo: Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press/MCT