Hearing in Tamara Greene lawsuit adjourned till Wednesday
M.L. Elrick is here, providing as-it-happens updates from U.S. District Court in downtown Detroit, where former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is on the witness stand being questioned by attorney Norman Yatooma regarding the e-mails he sent while in office.
Yatooma is trying to find out what happened to e-mails he requested as part of his lawsuit on behalf of Tamara Greene, who worked as a stripper under the name Strawberry before she was killed in 2003.
Greene is rumored to have danced at the never-proven Manoogian Mansion party that local legend says Kilpatrick threw months after taking office in 2002.
4:04 p.m. |Johnson, referring to the Kilpatrick administration as “The First Administration,” testified that he was not surprised that Kilpatrick and Beatty’s e-mails were missing.
“All I remember is Miss Peoples saying that at the end of the First Administration, a lot of things were destroyed,” Johnson said.
Peoples is an apparent reference to Patricia Peoples, a Kilpatrick cousin who was a high-ranking member of his mayoral staff.
Early in the text message case, Peoples was forced to appear before a Wayne County circuit court judge after she refused to provide documents requested by the Wayne County prosecutor.
Johnson has just stepped off the witness stand. Whalen is adjourning the hearing until Wednesday.
Come back to tomorrow’s print editon of the Free Press for a full account of today’s proceedings.
Thanks for reading!
Johnson: Not my job to tell Kilpatrick to preserve e-mails
3:55 p.m. | Asked why he didn’t inform Kilpatrick or others to preserve e-mails and other material cited in a court order stemming from the Greene lawsuit, Johnson said it was the responsibility of city attorneys John Schapka and Krystal Crittendon.
“They had the obligation to communicate that to their clients, they were the attorneys of record on this matter,” Johnson said.
Schapka is in court today because he continues to represent the city in the Greene case. He will probably ask Johnson some questions next.
Crittendon now has Johnson’s old job — she is Detroit’s corporation counsel.
Yatooma peppers Johnson over actions as corporation counsel
3:49 p.m. | Chances are, John Johnson would rather be elsewhere this afternoon. In his bid to determine whether Kilpatrick deleted e-mails relevant to the Greene case, Yatooma is peppering Johnson with suggestions that he did not act properly while corporation counsel.
Yatooma just went over the Attorney Discipline Board’s reprimand of Johnson for his role in the cover-up of a secret agreement the law department was involved in that aimed to bury Kilpatrick and Beatty’s text messages in return for $8.4 million in city money.
Johnson told Yatooma he did nothing wrong.
“I disagreed with the finding of fact,” Johnson said of the discipline board’s ruling. “I think their finding of fact was incorrect.”
Johnson is now vice chairman of the city’s Charter Commission, which is charged with improving the city’s rules of government.
John Johnson takes the stand
3:24 p.m. | Judge Carter has been excused and has been replaced on the witness stand by the man who also succeeded her as corporation counsel: John Johnson. He served as the city’s top lawyer until Kilpatrick left office.
If Kilpatrick sent ANY e-mails, that’s important
3:05 p.m. | Kilpatrick came into office in 2002 vowing to “delete the digital divide” and make Detroit a more tech-savvy city.
Apparently, e-mail was not one of the digital devices Kilpatrick’s administration valued.
Both Kilpatrick and, now, his former corporation counsel Ruth Carter testified that they didn’t send many e-mails.
The fact that Kilpatrick sent ANY e-mails is noteworthy because, in response to a Free Press Freedom of Information request filed early in Kilpatrick’s tenure, the city’s Law Department headed by Carter denied the newspaper’s request for Kilpatrick’s e-mails on the grounds that Kilpatrick didn’t have an e-mail account.
And the next witness will be …
2:22 p.m. | Oops. The next witness is 36th District Court Judge Ruth Carter, who was Kilpatrick’s first corporation counsel. That’s a fancy title for the head of the law department and top legal adviser to the mayor.
She served as corporation counsel from 2002 to 2006, when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed her to fill a vacancy on the Detroit district court bench.
Greene case had nothing to do with us, Kilpatrick says
2:09 p.m. | Yatooma is questioning Kilpatrick again, and the former mayor couldn’t be clearer when it came to the issue of whether he had been contacted about the Greene investigation.
“I’ve never had a communication electronically or otherwise about the case of Tamara Greene. I can unequivocally say that nobody in my office was discussing this with me,” he said. “What I’m referring to is Tamara Greene specifically, the investigation involving Tamara Greene, police issues relating to that case.”
“It was not a matter that was given an incredible amount of attention because we didn’t feel it had anything to do with us at all,” he added. “We never discussed Tamara Greene, we never discussed any investigation, we never discussed police and what they were doing … because it had nothing to do with us.”
Magistrate Whalen then went over some points that came up during testimony and Kilpatrick reiterated that he rarely e-mailed and primarily communicated electronically via text message. At one point, he said he didn’t use his laptop much because the keys were too small for his fingers.
“My hands were too big for that little thing,” he said.
No one noted that the buttons on a text pager are smaller, however.
Kilpatrick has stepped down and former police chief Ella Bully-Cummings is expected to take the witness stand next.
The hearing is in a brief recess.
Kilpatrick: An emphatic ‘no’
1:54 p.m. | Yatooma has finished questioning Kilpatrick and now city attorney John Schapka is taking over.
Responding to questions about whether Kilpatrick ever wrote an e-mail regarding Tamara (Strawberry) Greene, the former mayor said he didn’t believe he ever wrote about her.
Asked if he ever intentionally deleted e-mails from the time the Manoogian Mansion party supposedly happened up to Greene’s murder, Kilpatrick was unequivocal:
Yatooma told he’s seeking answers from wrong person
1:50 p.m. | It’s not exactly open mic night at the Improv, but Magistrate Whalen has displayed a wry wit on a couple occasions.
The latest came when he told Yatooma that he had pretty well established that Kilpatrick believes his deleted communications still exist somewhere, even if he doesn’t know where. Whalen said Yatooma’s questions about where those communications ended up might be better for an IT specialist.
“I think we have another dying horse here,” he told Yatooma.
A bit of wit
1:45 p.m. | A brief moment of levity — intended or otherwise — just popped up.
Expanding on his belief that any electronic communication he has deleted still exists somewhere, Kilpatrick just said: “A great number of people have been able to find things I’ve deleted before, Mr. Yatooma.”
Kilpatrick says e-mail was mundane
1:29 p.m. | Kilpatrick just testified that he had no idea how many messages were in his inbox when he left office.
Among the things he said he deleted over the years were “sweet nothings” and notes about his kids.
In addition to personal messages, he said he also received e-mails to his mayoral mailbox as mundane as “cut the grass at Rackham,” a reference to the city-owned golf course in Huntington Woods.
He has repeatedly testified that he did not know the city had an electronic communication retention policy.
A chat with a former police chief
1:28 p.m. | During the lunch break, I got a chance to briefly catch up with former Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully Cummings.
She looked radiant and flashed the smile that the public often didn’t get to see during her tenure as Detroit’s first female police chief. Asked how she is enjoying life in private practice — Bully Cummings is a lawyer — she said she is enjoying life and, like most of the folks you bump into during this case, would like the media to leave her alone.
She will have to wait at least another day. Yatooma is expected to call her as a witnesses this afternoon.
Kilpatrick was unaware of policy
1:15 p.m. | Court is back in session and Kilpatrick is on the witness stand. He just testified that he did not know that the city had a policy that all communications sent on electronic devices were city property.
He said he thought that certain messages — personal messages — were his property.
He also said he believed communications between husband and wife and any health issues would not be public records.
Hearing adjourned until 1 p.m.
12:15 p.m. | Magistrate Whalen just adjourned the hearing until 1 p.m.
When we return, Yatooma will resume questioning Kilpatrick.
Expect this one to take all day, folks.
Kilpatrick says his signature used without his knowledge
12:02 p.m. | When is Kilpatrick’s signature not his signature? Apparently when it’s an electronic signature.
In response to Yatooma’s questioning regarding Kilpatrick’s signature on a city policy, the former mayor said that an electronic version of his signature was sometimes affixed to documents without his knowledge.
“Unfortunately,” he added.
Kilpatrick says he complied with e-mail policy
11:49 a.m. | Yatooma has been quizzing Kilpatrick on whether he understood the city’s policy on e-mail preservation and whether he complied with it.
Kilpatrick said he didn’t know what the policy was, but he complied with it.
“You didn’t delete any emails?” Yatooma asked.
“In this case? Absolutely not,” Kilpatrick answered.
Kilpatrick not sure if e-mails were backed up
11:43 a.m. | Yatooma just asked Kilpatrick if his e-mails were backed up after he left office in September 2008.
“I don’t know if they should have been and I don’t know if they were,” Kilpatrick said. “I don’t know if all of my stuff wasn’t preserved … I don’t know that it wasn’t done.”
Judge limits scope of e-mail questions
11:41 a.m. | Yatooma has not had much success today expanding the scope of his search for Kilpatrick’s e-mails.
Even before the former mayor took the stand, Magistrate Whalen denied Yatooma’s request to expand his search for e-mail from period between the rumored party and Tamara Greene’s death to the present.
Yatooma had argued that the city of Detroit has repeatedly withheld documents and e-mail relating to the suit, which the city has disputed.
Whalen told Yatooma he wants to keep today’s hearing narrowly focused on e-mail for Kilpatrick and several key city officials for the time period in question.
Yatooma denied access to Kilpatrick e-mails
11:32 a.m. | Federal Magistrate R. Steven Whalen has just ruled that Yatooma does not have a right to Kilpatrick’s e-mails from around the time of the firing of former Detroit Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown.
It was no surprise, as Whalen rebuffed several attempts by Yatooma to get at the messages.
“Do you get the sense that you’re losing on this?” he asked Yatooma.
“I get the very real sense,” Yatooma said.
Whalen subsequently said Yatooma’s questions were more like testimony on his part.
“Stay away from Gary Brown,” he warned, adding that everyone was in court today only to try to figure out what happened to missing e-mails from the period around the time of the rumored Manoogian Mansion party and Greene’s death in a drive-by shooting — which occurred before Brown filed a whistle-blower suit against the city.
Yatooma said his questions were relevant because they could help establish what the city’s policy was regarding preservation of e-mails related to pending litigation.
Kilpatrick doesn’t recall deleting e-mails after plea deal
11:12 a.m. | Yatooma has been asking Kilpatrick if he deleted any e-mails in the two weeks in September 2008 between the day he agreed to resign as part of the plea deal to settle the text message case and the day he left office.
Kilpatrick responded: “I don’t know if I had any e-mails left. I don’t recall going on to the computer at that time at all.”
Kilpatrick subdued on stand
11:09 a.m. | Every time Kilpatrick comes to court, there is something of a reunion involved.
Today, former top bodyguards Mike Martin and Greg (Loronzo) Jones are waiting outside the courtroom, presumably for their turns to testify.
Also spotted in the courthouse, but sitting in a room off the main corridor, was Martin and Jones’ old boss, former Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings.
Kilpatrick is still on the stand, where he has been testifying for 35 minutes. So far, he has said that he didn’t keep many e-mails, deleting the vast majority of them because they were not important or did not require a response.
Kilpatrick seems subdued and is sitting in the witness chair in a tie and shirtsleeves. It is a change in attire from the garb he usually wears as an inmate at the federal prison in Milan, where he is serving out a minimum 18-month sentence for violating probation in the text message case.