Supreme court backs document release
State's high court won't hear appeal
The Michigan Supreme Court refused today to take up Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s appeal in the text-messaging scandal.
The high court, in a 7-0 decision, sent the case back to Wayne County Circuit Judge Robert Colombo Jr. to release the remaining confidential documents that went into last year’s $8.4-million settlement two police whistle-blower lawsuits. Colombo ordered the documents released on Feb. 5 pending the city’s appeal.
“There is no FOIA exemption for settlement agreements,” the court said in its decision, referring to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. “Moreover, a public body may not contract away its obligations under the FOIA.”
Justice Marilyn Kelly agreed with the decision, but said some of the transcript of a deposition Colombo allowed the Free Press to conduct with cops’ lawyer Michael Stefani was confidential. But because the city didn’t ask that it be redacted, Kelly said, the transcript also can be released.
There was no immediate comment from Detroit Law Department chief John Johnson Jr., who could ask the high court to reconsider today’s ruling. He also could file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Detroit, but legal experts doubted that would happen since the case doesn’t involve any federal issues.
Colombo is expected to release the documents today if the city doesn’t ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.
“This is complete vindication for the idea that public officials cannot lie under oath and go behind closed doors in secrecy to make decisions with so much public money in the balance,” said Free Press Editor Paul Anger. “The public’s right to know has been upheld.”
“The city ought to end this misbegotten legal battle and release the documents,” Anger said.
The Free Press filed a Michigan Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in January after the Law Department refused to release all of the settlement documents.
The settlement involved three cops who said they were forced out of their jobs for raising questions about the mayor’s security team, questions that might cause them to discover that he was having an extramarital affair with his then-Chief of Staff Christine Beatty.
Two of the cops won a $6.5-million jury verdict in one of the suits last September. Although the mayor vowed to appeal, he settled out of court in October for $8.4 million – $8 million for the two cops who went to trial and $400,000 for a third cop whose whistle-blower lawsuit was pending.
Late last month, the Free Press disclosed the existence of text messages between Kilpatrick and Beatty showing that they lied under oath at the trial when they denied having an extramarital affair and gave misleading testimony about firing one of the cops.
The Law Department failed to tell the City Council about the text messages when it asked the body to approve the settlement.
On Feb. 5, Colombo ordered the release of all of the settlement documents and a transcript of a Free Press deposition Colombo authorized with the ex-cops’ lawyer, Mike Stefani.
Afterward, the Kilpatrick administration appealed unsuccessfully to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which upheld Colombo.
Along the way, the city gave up the fight on one document – a confidential Nov. 1 settlement agreement in which the cops and Stefani agreed to forfeit their settlement and legal fees if they ever divulged the existence of the text messages. They also agreed to alert the mayor if anyone ever asked about the text messages.
Contact DAVID ASHENFELTER at or [email protected]
. Staff writer Joe Swickard contributed to this report.