In the most recent “Legal Briefs” column in the Living Section of the Blade, Toledo, Ohio personal injury attorney Dale Emch discusses Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s testimony surrounding the recent scandal involving text messaging and his former chief of staff. Although Attorney Emch focuses on personal injury, including car accidents and workers’ compensation, Attorney Emch also handles criminal defense.
The scandal swirling around embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the web of lies he appears to have spun has prompted a lot of curiosity about the perjury charges he faces.
In case you missed it, Mayor Kilpatrick and Christine Beatty, his former chief of staff, have been slapped with felony charges of perjury stemming from testimony they gave in a civil trial in August. The gist of the charges is that they lied under oath in the case brought by former Detroit police officers about whether Kilpatrick and Beatty previously had a romantic relationship and whether they had fired Detroit Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown in 2003.
Anyone who has read the coverage in the Detroit Free Press knows there’s no doubt that they both lied under oath. The paper broke the story by uncovering text messages the mayor and Ms. Beatty sent each other that make it clear that not only were they sexually involved, but that they had discussed and decided to fire Mr. Brown.
In the court of public opinion, these two are cooked. Whether that translates into convictions in a courtroom remains to be seen. I’ve had friends ask how the mayor and Ms. Beatty can possibly avoid conviction, given what the Free Press has exposed. My only response is that it sure looks bad, but you never know whether material that suffices as good, solid proof for newspaper stories will be admissible and persuasive in court.
In Ohio, one commits perjury by knowingly making a false statement that is material — meaning that it could affect the outcome of the proceeding. In Michigan, one commits perjury by willfully testifying falsely to “any matter or thing.” So, in Michigan, the false statement doesn’t need to be material to the case.
Prosecutors will have to prove that Mayor Kilpatrick and Ms. Beatty willfully made false statements at the August trial. At this point, it looks like the best evidence is the text messages that show they were lying. The statements at trial would have to be false, not just misleading.
In order to prove that, prosecutors would have to show that the two actually sent the text messages that the Free Press uprooted. If the case ever goes to trial, I’m guessing that the prosecutors will have more to work with than just the text messages the two sent. I would think by using powers unavailable to the journalists who have worked this story they’ll come up with witnesses that will provide damning evidence.
I don’t have enough room here to recap the disparity between the testimony the mayor and Ms. Beatty gave and the text messages he sent, but here’s a small sampling pulled from the Free Press coverage. When Mayor Kilpatrick and Ms. Beatty were asked if they had a romantic relationship during 2001-2003, both said no.
According to the paper, Ms. Beatty rolled her eyes at the question while Mayor Kilpatrick went on to give a windy response about how “demoralizing” such questions were to both of them, and how disparaging such suggestions were to Ms. Beatty as a woman.
Contrast that testimony with a text message the mayor sent Ms. Beatty on Oct. 16, 2002, which read: “I’ve been dreaming all day about having you all to myself for 3 days. Relaxing, laughing, talking, sleeping, and making love.”
On Oct. 3, 2002, Mayor Kilpatrick wrote that he was “madly in love” with Ms. Beatty, to which she responded that she was “madly in love” with him, too. A number of other text messages, some of them too explicit for the Free Press to print, were exchanged by the two.
They also both testified that they hadn’t fired Mr. Brown. Ms. Beatty, though, wrote a text message on May 15, 2003, to the mayor that essentially apologized for the mess created by the “decision that we made to fire Gary Brown.” Mayor Kilpatrick responded that “… It had to happen though. I’m all the way with that.”
The conflicts between the testimony and the messages are numerous.
The case, though, has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Will jurors be sympathetic to the mayor and refuse to convict him or will they condemn his actions?
At the very least, the mayor deserves to lose his license to practice law and Ms. Beatty, a law student, should never be allowed to sit for a bar exam. The legal system only works if people are honest when they testify — and there need to be consequences for those who aren’t.