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Court agrees to hear Kilpatrick, Ferguson appeals

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit – — A federal appeals court panel has agreed to hear oral arguments in former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s long-shot bid to vacate his corruption conviction and get a new trial.

The decision by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments Jan. 13 in Cincinnati, while not surprising, is the latest legal development in one of the most complex and wide-ranging public corruption cases in U.S. history.

“Given the magnitude of this case, it was almost guaranteed to be heard,” said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “There’s some complex issues in here and this is a significant case but appeals are always stacked against the defendant.”

The joint appeal with his friend, contractor Bobby Ferguson who was also convicted, largely revives arguments Kilpatrick made during a nearly six-month trial that two of his defense lawyers had a conflict of interest regarding a former client, Detroit towing titan Gasper Fiore, a one-time government witness.

Kilpatrick’s lawyer Harold Gurewitz gave his client the news after the appeals court announced Monday it would hear oral argument.

“We are both pleased that it got set so quickly,” Gurewitz said Friday. “I don’t think it means anything other than this is an opportunity for us to proceed to obtain justice that is due.”

Kilpatrick was found guilty of 24 counts in March 2013, including racketeering conspiracy. The 44-year-old former Detroit mayor is serving a 28-year sentence in an Oklahoma medium-security federal prison.

His release date is Aug. 1, 2037.

“I think he’s doing OK,” Gurewitz said. “He’s interested in the appeal and that’s all I communicate with him about.”

He was convicted alongside Ferguson, who was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison.

Kilpatrick’s lawyers will get 20 minutes to argue in front of the appeals court judges as will Ferguson’s legal team. Prosecutors get 40 minutes.

In his appeal, Kilpatrick argued U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds erred by allowing lay opinion testimony from federal agents. He also said an order for him to pay the Internal Revenue Service and Detroit Water and Sewerage Department more than $4.5 million was not authorized by federal law.

“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, the jury never had the opportunity to review on their own and to use to draw their own conclusions,” Gurewitz wrote.

At sentencing, Edmunds castigated Kilpatrick for living “larger than life” on millions of dollars he stole after creating a “corrosive pay-to-play” system in city hall.

“I hope that the sentence that I’m about to impose will give that message, that we’re demanding accountability and transparency in our government,” Edmunds said. “That where there has been corruption, there will be no more. We are done.”

Even though he admitted he “really messed up,” Kilpatrick denied the most damning charges: That he operated a complex racketeering enterprise centered on lining the pockets of himself and Ferguson.

Before being sentenced, Kilpatrick apologized for his behavior in general and said he wasn’t a thief.

“I’ve never done that, your honor,” he said.

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