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Published: Monday, 7/14/2008

Some text messages sealed in Detroit mayor case, judge rules

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT A number of previously unreleased text messages in the criminal case against Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former top aide will remain under seal, a judge ruled Monday.

District Court Judge Ronald Giles said texts that could be subject to a privilege challenge by defense lawyers or would be inadmissible in a preliminary examination will be sealed and not included in Kilpatrick's criminal case file.

Defense lawyers say the messages could threaten the ability to get a fair trial and were illegally obtained.

The Wayne County prosecutor's office wanted the new messages released to the public.

Giles did say he intended to release a number of text messages that previously have surfaced in media reports.

He said the release of those texts would not present any further harm to the defendants' right to a fair trial.

"For the most part those text messages are already out there," Giles said. "The issue of a fair trial has to some degree already been threatened."

It wasn't immediately clear when the messages would be unsealed, although Giles said he would rule at a July 25 hearing on what evidence will be admitted for a preliminary examination scheduled for Sept. 22.

Prosecutors want to make public as part of the court case file a motion containing what they say is about 200 text messages, including some between Kilpatrick and his wife, Carlita. Attachments containing other text messages also are part of the motion.

"There are a lot of text messages attached, definitely in the hundreds, if not in the thousands," Giles told Assistant Prosecutor Robert Moran. "This is still a preliminary examination. How many text messages do you need?"

Moran countered that all the messages relate to the charges against Kilpatrick and former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty and that prosecutors anticipate challenges to some of them.

"There is a lot of evidence in this case," Moran said. "We're finding new relationships, in terms of the messages, everyday, and more witnesses."

Moran said nearly two weeks ago that the new text messages reveal other extramarital relationships involving Kilpatrick. His office plans to amend at least one of the charges against the mayor due to those new messages, Moran said.

Moran had no comment on Giles' ruling.

The case has seen numerous motions filed by the defense and prosecution. The preliminary examination was pushed back to September from the original June 9 date to give defense lawyers more time to prepare.

Giles said Monday the case will move forward.

"We're not going to delay these proceedings any further," he told both sides. "In September, we're going to hold these hearings."

Attorneys for Kilpatrick and Beatty have been given until July 18 to give Giles and prosecutors a list of messages they claim could fall under spousal, attorney-client or other privileges.

Kilpatrick and Beatty were present at Monday's hearing in Detroit.

Giles' ruling also allows defense teams to argue which of the new text messages should be included as evidence in the preliminary examination, said Jim Parkman, one of Kilpatrick's lawyers.

"We wanted to remain sealed those things that have not gotten out," Parkman told reporters outside 36th District Court. "There are the ones that have already been out there. People can read them over again."

Excerpts of embarrassing and sexually explicit text messages left on Beatty's city-issued pager first were published in January by the Detroit Free Press.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Colombo in April ordered the release of a document containing other text messages sent from or received on Beatty's pager. That document was recovered from the computer of Michael Stefani, an attorney who represented three police officers in whistle-blowers' lawsuits that were settled last year for $8.4 million.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Kilpatrick and Beatty in March with perjury, misconduct and obstruction of justice stemming from testimony they gave last year during that whistle-blowers' trial. They also are accused of lying about their roles in the firing of a police official.

Kilpatrick and Beatty deny the charges, but text messages already made public appear to contradict their testimony.

Kilpatrick also faces forfeiture of office efforts by the Detroit City Council, which accuses him of violating provisions in the city charter by keeping secret a confidentiality agreement related to the whistle-blowers' settlement.

The council also has asked Gov. Jennifer Granholm to remove Kilpatrick for misconduct.



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