Court orders Kwame Kilpatrick to explain missing computer

A federal magistrate judge today ordered ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to appear in court next week to answer questions about his missing computer, and whether or not he stored any emails on it.

U.S. Magistrate R. Steven Whalen wants Kilpatrick to clarify whether he archived any emails on his computer, whose disappearance has triggered a legal controversy and turned into a sore spot for the city.

Whalen is currently considering sanctioning the city for destroying or losing Kilpatrick’s computer and, consequently, destroying e-mails that could be relevant to lawsuits. The city has argued that it doesn’t have access to Kilpatrick’s deleted emails because the city’s server automatically purges such emails after seven days to clear up space.

The question remains, however, is whether or not Kilpatrick archived any emails on his computer that could still be retrieved, Whalen said.

“I think Mr. Kilpatrick’s testimony is necessary,” Whalen said.

Kilpatrick said in an affidavit last week that he gave the computer to Ken Cockrel Jr., his successor as mayor, when he resigned from office in 2008. But Cockrel said “I never saw it.”

Kilpatrick’s computer was the subject of an evidentiary hearing in federal court this morning, when Terrance Sims, who oversees the city’s email system, testified that Kilplatrick’s deleted emails are not retrievable. He also disclosed that the city does not monitor or archive any emails because “we just don’t have the resources or the funding.”

“Once it’s purged out of the system, it’s purged,” Sims said of a trashed email. “We do not back up our emails. We have never backed up our emails.”

Attorney Norman Yatooma believes that Kilpatrick’s computer and emails were intentionally destroyed. He is representing the family of slain exotic dancer Tamara Greene, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in April 2003, six months after she supposedly danced at a rumored by never-proven party a the mayoral Manoogian mansion. The Greene family is suing the city and Kilpatrick, saying they intentionally botched her murder investigation to prevent her killer from being caught.

Kilpatrick and the city have denied a cover-up and are seeking to have the case dismissed.

In pursuing his lawsuit, Yatooma has requested the city produce Kilpatrick’s emails from August 2002 to June 2003, but the city has repeatedly argued that it doesn’t have them because they’ve been purged from the system.

Sims, the technical services manager for Detroit, testified today that a recent search of Kilpatrick’s email account did unearth several emails — the oldest dating to 2006 — but nothing from the dates that Yatooma requested. He said the search, conducted last month following Yatooma’s request, marked the first time that he has ever been asked by city officials or the law department to look for any Kilpatrick emails. Before last month, he said, “No one asked for us to check his account.”

Yatooma, meanwhile, has asked a federal judge to sanction the city for allegedly spoiling evidence. He also has compiled a list of witnesses he hopes to cross-examine at another evidentiary hearing next Monday. Among them: Kilpatrick, Cockrel, Gary Brown, whose police whistle-blower lawsuit triggered the text message scandal that led to Kilpatrick’s downfall; former police chief Ella Bully-Cummings and District Court Judge Ruth Carter, the former Detroit Corporation Counsel.

Whalen said that only Kilpatrick and a forensic computer expert will testify Monday, and that he will consider the other witness requests.

Meanwhile, City Attorney John Schapka said the city will search for any e-mails belonging to Kilpatrick’s former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, Bully-Cummings and Carter. He said the searches, which were requested by Yatooma, should be complete by Monday.

As for the whereabouts of Kilpatrick’s computer, Yatooma believes that if it ever turns up, a computer forensic expert would likely get a hold of valuable evidence.

“His computer’s got legs,” Yatooma said.

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