VIDEO: Judge in Tamara Greene case listens to final arguments; will the case go to trial?
Attorneys for the City of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, and the family of slain exotic dancer Tamara Greene will soon decide whether the highly-publicized lawsuit brought by attorney Norman Yatooma will go to trial.
While the facts of the case may be fascinating, legal experts say that may not be enough to get this case in front of a jury.
Tamara Greene was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2003. The date of the exotic dancers’ murder coincides with an infamous Detroit Police Department memo that outlined allegations about a never-proven Manoogian Mansion party.
The rumor went like this: Greene danced for former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick at the alleged party and the mayor’s wife showed up unexpectedly and assaulted the stripper.
Now Greene’s family is suing the city of Detroit and Kwame Kilpatrick, alleging they obstructed the investigation into her death.
Soon, a judge will decide whether a jury will hear from the dozens of witnesses Greene’s family attorney Norman Yatooma has deposed and interviewed during the last few years.
At issue Wednesday afternoon: lawyers for the city and Kilpatrick have asked the judge to toss the case out of court, claiming not one witness ever confirmed that anyone interfered with the homicide investigation.
Yatooma denies all of that, saying evidence has been ruined. He says every cop who tried to investigate Greene’s death faced trouble and that police reports from the night of the alleged party and sections of Greene’s homicide file have vanished.
“You would expect that there would be a trial because there are a lot of factual disputes, but the factual disputes don’t matter if there isn’t a valid claim,” Wayne State Law Professor Peter Henning told Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.
Henning is a former federal prosecutor. Henning says no matter how interesting the evidence appears, there are certain legal thresholds Greene’s estate must meet in order for the case to continue.
“Can Mr. Yatooma argue to the judge and convince the judge that there is a legal basis for the case to go forward? So while there’s been a lot of publicity about the case, it’s involved the facts,” said Henning. He went on to say “It’s the validity of the legal claim that’s going to dictate it,” said Henning.
Henning says the key is Yatooma’s core argument – that the rights of Greene’s children were violated because her murder wasn’t properly investigated.
“Usually you see these types of lawsuits brought over, say, a police beating, or destruction of property that have traditional constitutional protections. Do you have a constitutional right to have a crime investigated – that’s a new area. And a new claim, and so if it’s going to founder, I think it will founder on the legal issue,” said Henning.
City lawyer John Schapka and Kilpatrick attorney Jim Thomas have also objected to a recent recommendation by a Magistrate Judge that determined the city willfully, intentionally, and in bad faith destroyed evidence. Judge Rosen must decide if the case goes to trial, whether the jury will be told about the destruction.
“That’s the problem in any spoliation claim, is that you’re saying that this would have been helpful to me, but no one knows for sure, so what a judge does is instruct the jury that – give the benefit of the doubt to the party that didn’t get a hold of the evidence,” said Henning.
The hearing takes place at 2 p.m. Wednesday. It’s likely that Judge Rosen won’t make a decision about all of this for some time, and whatever ruling he makes is likely to be appealed.