Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DETROIT | Mired in criminal charges for months, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick now finds his political future strapped to a little-used provision in the Michigan Constitution that allows a governor to remove an elected official for misconduct.

Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a fellow Democrat, confirmed Tuesday what had been in the works for much of the summer: A hearing will begin Sept. 3 to determine whether Mr. Kilpatrick was seeking private gain when he endorsed an $8.4 million settlement with three fired police officers.

That deal carried confidentiality provisions to keep a lid on steamy text messages between the married mayor and his chief of staff at the time, both of whom denied having a relationship during testimony in a whistleblowers’ trial last year.

Both were charged with perjury and other counts after the Detroit Free Press published some of the messages, and the mayor later was charged with assault in a separate case involving a confrontation with investigators delivering a subpoena to a friend.

It will be the first time since 1982 that a Michigan governor has considered the removal of an elected official. The target then was a township official who drank too much.

“A hearing on the merits is warranted,” Mrs. Granholm said in an 18-page order released Tuesday.

In urging her to take action, the Detroit City Council said it was misled when asked to approve the “hush money” settlement because it was unaware of the confidentiality provisions.

“We’re delighted the governor has seen the situation as we do, and as needing to be resolved by a public hearing,” said William Goodman, attorney for the council.

Mr. Kilpatrick’s attorney, Sharon McPhail, had asked the governor to “decline to join the lynch mob” and called the council’s petition “factually inadequate and politically motivated.” Miss McPhail said she was disappointed with Mrs. Granholm’s decision.

“We intend to present evidence that proves the mayor did not misuse public funds for personal gain and that there was no failure to appropriately inform City Council about the facts of the court-ordered settlement,” Miss McPhail said.

Attorneys for the council and the mayor can call witnesses at the hearing, which will be held in Detroit. Mrs. Granholm will be assisted by Gregory Holiday, a state administrative law judge.

It is not clear whether Mr. Kilpatrick, 38, will testify. Mr. Goodman said the governor has no subpoena power to compel people to appear.

The governor, citing court precedent, made it clear that Mr. Kilpatrick has no remedy if she removes him.

“The governor is the sole tribunal in removal proceedings, with no right of appeal or review afforded the accused. … If the governor acts within the law, the governor’s decision is final,” Mrs. Granholm wrote.

Her order was signed Monday. Mrs. Granholm declined to answer questions Tuesday in Denver, where she is attending the Democratic National Convention.

If Mrs. Granholm decides against removing Mr. Kilpatrick, the two-term mayor still would be removed from office if convicted of any of the 10 felony charges against him.

He and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, are charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and other counts as a result of their testimony in the civil trial in 2007.

The mayor’s legal troubles worsened in July. When two investigators in the perjury case tried to deliver a subpoena to a friend, Mr. Kilpatrick confronted them on the porch of his sister’s home in Detroit.

Detective Brian White said the mayor shoved him into his partner and uttered a string of obscenities. Mr. Kilpatrick was charged with two felony counts of assault. His legal team claims it was a setup and promises a vigorous defense.

The mayor is barred from traveling beyond Wayne, Oakland or Macomb counties and must wear an electronic tether.

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