Federal judge has no regrets about Kilpatrick trial

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — The federal judge who sentenced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to 28 years in prison has no regrets but said Monday she feels bad for Kilpatrick’s family.

(caption information) U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds holds some of her Detroit Tigers memorabilia at her Detroit offices on Thursday October 25, 2012. Edmunds, holds a signed baseball from former Detroit Tigers outfielder Marcus Thames after she was hit by a foul ball by Thames. (Max Ortiz/Tne Detroit News)2012 .

In her first interview since the Kilpatrick trial, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds reflected on the high-profile case Monday hours after the Supreme Court rejected the former mayor’s attempt to secure a new trial and overturn the 2013 racketeering conspiracy conviction.

Edmunds, 68, talked about overseeing what she called a stressful, significant case, reflected on the lingering disappointment of Kilpatrick’s tenure and the impact of a corrupt era that preceded Detroit’s descent into bankruptcy.

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The Kilpatrick trial was a milestone case for the veteran judge, appointed in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush, that ended with Edmunds sentencing the former mayor to what stands tied for the longest public corruption sentence in recent U.S. history.

“Do I have any regrets? No,” Edmunds said Monday in an exclusive interview. “I do feel bad for his family, particularly his sons. I did the best I could. I tried to reach the best judgment I could, and I stand by it.

“I am relieved and glad it is over. No question, it was the most significant and most stressful matter that I have ever handled.”

Ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick outside federal court on September 6, 2012.

Edmunds spoke carefully about Kilpatrick on Monday, choosing not to talk about his breezy, defiant attitude during a six-month trial filled with allegations that he steered more than $73 million worth of city contracts to his friend, contractor Bobby Ferguson.

“I don’t really feel comfortable commenting on Kwame as a person,” she said. “He’s obviously a guy who had tremendous potential that could have been used in a more positive way for the city of Detroit. It’s always sad to see a waste of that potential.”

Edmunds said Kilpatrick’s tenure in public office demoralized a city teetering on the edge of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. The city filed bankruptcy in July 2013, four months after a jury convicted Kilpatrick.

“It contributed to the shredding of the fabric that was holding the city together,” Edmunds said. “I’m not saying any of the activity that he was convicted of led to the bankruptcy. I think it was more a demoralization engendered by the pay-to-play system.

“I think it caused profound emotional and morale damage in addition to any financial impact,” she added.

The Kilpatrick case was one of three trials overseen in recent years by Edmunds that drew international attention. She presided over the 2011 trial of underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — who was sentenced to four life prison terms — and the 2014 public corruption trial of Kilpatrick’s fraternity brother, former city Treasurer Jeffrey Beasley.

Beasley and two others were convicted after being accused of approving $200 million in corrupt deals and weakening a public pension system that faced takeover during the city’s bankruptcy.

The Kilpatrick case was unusually stressful, she said.

“It was a long trial, and you have stamina issues moving it along day after day, week after week for six months,” she said. “And because it was so high-profile, that added a dimension of consciousness of how everything in the courtroom is affecting the community. There were stakeholders in the outcome of the trial far beyond the individual defendants.”

Edmunds oversaw the cases while privately coping with Parkinson’s disease. She was diagnosed in April 2010, two months before Kilpatrick was indicted in federal court.

She experiences tremors in her left leg, and more faintly, in her right leg, an involuntary shaking that intensifies during times of stress.

“I was careful to manage the symptoms, or the disease, in a way that worked for everyone,” Edmunds said. “I went to bed early and ate right.”

She also participates in a Parkinson’s-specific, non-contact boxing workout, walks three miles most days on a treadmill and exercises with a personal trainer.

With the Kilpatrick case in the past, Edmunds reflected on the city’s revitalization under Mayor Mike Duggan.

“We have a very different city now than we did then,” the judge said. “It’s been through bankruptcy and has a different approach to city government. People who have made lives in the city are glad to see (the Kilpatrick) era over and behind them.”

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