June 19, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Lawyers sue to halt council's attempt to oust Kilpatrick

They say officials' effort is illegal, costly

"We are looking to save money for the citizens of Detroit," says Dillard, seen with senior clerk Pamela Oliver, about the lawsuit. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

DETROIT -- The City Council may hold off on hearings planned for July 7 to boot Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, until a judge rules on a legal challenge filed Wednesday by two lawyers hired by the city to fight the ouster attempt.

Godfrey J. Dillard, a Detroit civil rights attorney, and his co-counsel, Wayne State University Law Professor Robert A. Sedler, filed the petition in Wayne Circuit Court asking to halt the council's process, saying its actions are illegal and should stop before they cost the city too much money.

"The facts are clear," Dillard said. "The law is there. We are looking to save money for the citizens of Detroit."

Council attorney William Goodman countered that the panel is on solid legal ground, but said he may recommend members delay hearings until a judge rules. Circuit Judge Robert Ziolkowski is scheduled to consider the case June 27, but Goodman said he doesn't expect a decision that day.

"It's a good idea to get clarity on the controlling legal ideas ... in this case," Goodman said. "It could only make things in the end faster and easier."

Dillard and Sedler were hired by the city's Law Department. It is supposed to represent the mayor and the council, but some accuse the department of taking Kilpatrick's side in a scandal over the $8.4 million police whistle-blower settlements. Dillard said they are representing Detroiters and are trying to "protect the integrity" of the vote.

Dillard said the council is wrong on three fronts. First, members need a "super majority" -- not the simple 5-4 vote that initiated the process -- to begin forfeiture, calling that a national standard even though the city charter doesn't require it. Second, the only reasons they could remove the mayor is if he were convicted of a felony or no longer resided in the city, neither of which has occurred. Third, he said the council's drafted rules for the forfeiture process after determining Kilpatrick should be removed.

"We think that violates fairness, due process," Dillard said. "They are fashioning the rules to fit what they already want to do."

But Goodman said Sedler and Dillard are ignoring the city charter provision that says the council shall determine grounds for forfeiture.

"This complaint reflects the fact that the mayor, like the ostrich, has his head in the stand," Goodman said.

Goodman reiterated that the panel won't revote to attain a super-majority, six votes.

Kilpatrick faces multiple felony counts claiming he perjured himself during a police whistle-blower trial last year and crafted an $8.4 million settlement to three former cops intended to keep secret text messages that contradicted his testimony. His former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, faces similar charges. The messages indicate a romantic relationship both denied under oath.

It's not clear if Dillard is going to try to move the case to another judge. He said he would petition Wayne County Chief Circuit Judge William Giovan to hear the case, but it was assigned to Ziolkowski. Goodman said if Dillard tries to get the case moved, he would challenge the effort.

Meanwhile, another lawsuit could be coming against the council from the Unify Detroit Coalition, a group that supports Kilpatrick.

The group is hosting a rally at the Shrine of the Black Madonna, 7625 Linwood, at 6:30 tonight to honor council members who voted against hosting in-house impeachment proceedings and asking Gov. Jennifer Granholm to remove Kilpatrick.

The coalition also may support a recall effort against members who did.

Godfrey J. Dillard, an attorney hired by the city of Detroit Law ... (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)