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Kwame Kilpatrick, Jailed Ex-Detroit Mayor, Turns to SCOTUS

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 26, 2015 7:00 AM

Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor of Detroit convicted of fraud and racketeering, is taking his case to the Supremes. Not Motown hero Diana Ross, but the Supreme Court. Kilpatrick is currently asking the High Court to hear his case after the Sixth Circuit upheld his conviction in August and rejected his petition for en banc review.

Kilpatrick's tenure as mayor was long plagued by scandal, including accusations that he held wild parties in the major's mansion and even covered up the murder of an exotic dancer. It was much more quotidian corruption that landed him with a 28 year jail sentence, however, after the government accused him of extorting money from government contractors.

Kilpatrick's Complaints

Kilpatrick's conviction centered on his relationship with Bobby Ferguson, a Detroit contractor. The government's theory, according to the Sixth Circuit, was that Kilpatrick and Ferguson "conspired to extort money from other Detroit-area contractors by pressuring them to include Ferguson's companies in their city contracts -- even when Ferguson's companies were not the most qualified candidates and even when Ferguson's companies did no work." After a six-month long trial, Kilpatrick was convicted of bribery, extortion, mail and wire fraud, RICO conspiracy, and tax evasion in 2013 and sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Kilpatrick, of course, appealed. His main argument was that he was denied conflict-free counsel at trial. Kilpatrick was represented by James Thomas and Michael Naughton. Thomas is a Detroit area criminal defense attorney; Naughton was his partner, though his primary practice area appears to be immigration law. At the time, the two were with the O'Reilly Rancilio firm, which represented a water district which was suing Kilpatrick in civil court. Thomas also represented Gaspar Fiore, one of Kilpatrick's victims.

When Kilpatrick tried to have Thomas removed for conflicts of interest, the court rejected his request, characterizing it as simply an attempt to delay trial. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit also saw no harm in Thomas's representation, finding no evidence that Kilpatrick's counsel "did anything detrimental to his defense or failed to do something that was clearly advantageous."

A Long Shot at the Supreme Court

Last Thursday, the Sixth Circuit denied Kilpatrick's request for en banc review. The ex-mayor's new lawyer, Harold Gurewitz, is now getting ready to petition the Supreme Court for certiorari, according to the Detroit Free Press. It's unlikely to get very far. Very few cert petitions are granted -- the Court hears just about one percent of all petitions -- and Kilpatrick's doesn't present the most significant constitutional issues. Still, "Mr. Kilpatrick received an extremely long sentence, so I think that there are compelling reasons for further review," Gurewitz tells the Free Press.

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