Mich. Sen. Johnson gets new trial date

Jonathan Oosting

Embattled state Sen. Bert Johnson is now set to stand trial in late October under a new stipulation and order in his twice-delayed case involving allegations of public corruption.

Court documents show federal prosecutors and Johnson’s new taxpayer-funded attorney John Shea last week signed off on a revised case schedule that includes an Oct. 23 trial date. District Court Judge Matthew Leitman made it official with a Tuesday order.

Johnson, a Highland Park Democrat, is accused of conspiring to steal public money by putting a “ghost employee” on his Senate payroll to repay her for personal loans.

He was originally set to stand trial June 20, but the initial timeline was pushed back to allow his former attorney time to prepare for the case. It had been rescheduled for Aug. 22.

The latest delay is “necessary for newly-appointed defense counsel to adequately prepare for trial,” according to a court stipulation dated Aug. 4. Both parties agreed “the ends of justice served by this delay outweigh the best interests of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial.”

Shea took over Johnson’s defense last month after the lawmaker dumped his original lawyer and claimed he was broke. Attorney Cyril Hall withdrew from the case on July 11, and Shea accepted the court appointment two days later.

The Ann Arbor attorney is perhaps best known in the metro region for defending Bernard Kilpatrick, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s father, in a high-profile corruption case. The elder Kilpatrick got a 15-month prison sentence for tax evasion in 2013.

Johnson, 43, is facing conspiracy and theft charges that carry penalties of up to 10 years in federal prison. An April indictment alleges he conspired to steal public money between March 2014 and January 2015. He remains in office and free on bond.

Johnson recently praised his new attorney and suggested he will be “not only victorious, but ... vindicated” at trial.

Under the revised court schedule, attorneys will have until September 12 to file motions in the case. A plea deal deadline and finale pretrial conference are set for October 10 ahead of the Oct. 23 trial.