DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A judge says former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick suddenly has raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest with his legal team, just as the jury selection process starts in his corruption trial.
Federal Judge Nancy Edmunds did not disclose what the potential conflict might be, but has scheduled a hearing on the issue for next Tuesday. Kilpatrick and his longtime attorney, James Thomas, declined to explain.
“I don’t think there’s any chance I’m not going to do this trial,” Thomas said later Wednesday.
Edmunds made her remarks in court Wednesday as the first batch of potential jurors waited downstairs to fill out a 22-page questionnaire.
View a copy of the questionnaire (.pdf format)
WWJ Legal Analyst and 1270 morning show host Charlie Langton said the news of a potential conflict comes as a surprise. “Jim Thomas has represented Kwame Kilpatrick for years. Why now — on what may very well be the most important trial of Kwame Kilpatrick’s career, would he even talk about bailing on him right now?”
“I don’t get it, and I don’t believe there’s good reason,” Langton said.
Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, pal Bobby Ferguson and ex-Detroit water boss Victor Mercado are all defendants on trial.
A 38-count indictment alleges corruption regarding city contracts totaling at least $100 million, involving racketeering conspiracy, extortion, fraud, bribery and tax evasion. The charges carry penalties ranging from three to 30 years in prison.
The federal case is the result of a long-running investigation that stretches as far back as Kilpatrick’s years as a state lawmaker, before he was elected mayor in 2001.
Prosecutors say the Kilpatricks ran a brazen pay-to-play scheme in which they took kickbacks and bribes to steer city business to certain contractors, especially Ferguson and Mercado — robbing taxpayers of millions of dollars.
All four men have maintained their innocence.
Edmunds, referring to widespread publicity about Kilpatrick and scandals in his administration, said she’s not looking for jurors who aren’t familiar with the ex-mayor, just people who can be “fair, objective and impartial.”
The judge wants to cull the jury pool to 80 by Sept. 6 and then eventually select 12 jurors and six alternates. Opening statements in a trial, which could last until January, are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 14.
“This is an unusual process,” Thomas told reporters.
Earlier Wednesday, the Kilpatricks hugged each other in court, with father asking son, “What’s up, big fella?”
Kwame Kilpatrick shook the hand of Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Doeh and joked about the breadth of the government’s case against him. In a light exchange with a TV reporter about fame, the former mayor said, “I’m infamous.”
Opening statements could occur Sept. 14 in a trial that will last months.
Stay with WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBSDetroit.com for continuing coverage.
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