Crime lab catastrophe continues

At the time of the Detroit crime lab closure in September 2008, there was a sense in criminal law circles that the sky was falling. An audit of the crime lab found an error rate of 10 percent in tested fired evidence. One in 10. That’s a lot of fired evidence.

But fired evidence isn’t always that important in a case, one veteran defense lawyer told me late in 2008. A case is about a body of evidence, and not just on piece. So while the lab errors were egregious, and certainly a signal of the dysfunction within the Detroit Police Department and its laboratory, it just wasn’t the end of the world, as far as he and his clients were concerned.

At the time, it may have been easy to nod and recognize the terrible problem, but shrug it off as something that’s far from a catastrophe. After all, since the crime lab’s closure, only periodically do we hear that a defendant is getting a new trial.

And as for the new evidence? Well, how bad could it be? The capable and diligent Michgan State Police have taken over the duties of testing that evidence and when Michigan Lawyers Weekly visited one of those laboratories where fired evidence was tested, along with DNA evidence, we saw no one running around with their hair on fire. So it’s all good, right?

Well, no.

According to a story in today’s The Detroit News, the “backlogs of forensic evidence at labs across the state (is) causing the justice system in Michigan to grind to a halt.” As of today, the backlog of rape kits dating back ot the mid-1990s is an astonishing 12,000.

That’s not a typo. Twelve. Thousand.

Think of that in terms of the number of women who have been violently victimized, then muster the courage to report it to police, only to have the most crucial evidence tossed aside to sit in storage for more than a decade.

It’s unthinkable. The sky has fallen.

ADB hearing for another Kilpatrick text-message lawyer

It’s Wilson Copeland’s turn on the Attorney Discipline Board hot seat.

Copeland was one of several attorneys defending the city of Detroit in a whistleblower suit by two cops that lead to an $8.4 million settlement.

The deal was designed to keep private the now very public series of text messages that forced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick from office and into a short stint in the slammer.

According to The Detroit News

Hearings already have been completed for Michael Stefani, the lawyer who represented the whistleblower cops, and Samuel McCargo, a private practice lawyer hired by the city to represent then-Mayor Kilpatrick. Hearings for John E. Johnson, former head of the city’s legal department, and his assistant, current Deputy Corporation Counsel Valerie Colbert-Osamuede, have yet to be scheduled. …

The lawyers are accused of striking the secret deal instead of notifying the judge who oversaw the lawsuit that the messages had been obtained after the trial was completed in September of 2007 and jurors found in favor of the police officers.

The five also were accused of criminal wrongdoing for failing to notify authorities that the messages Stefani discovered made them aware of lies Kilpatrick and his former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty told on the witness stand to cover up their extra-marital affair. However, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has declined to press criminal charges, choosing instead to await the outcome of the attorney grievance process.

In ADB testimony yesterday, Copeland said that he never saw the text messages until The Detroit Free Press published excerpts that established Kilpatrick and Beatty’s perjury.

Kwame battles financial disclosure order

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy “would have preferred that Mr. Kilpatrick is sitting in a cardboard box on Woodward Avenue living in garbage cans.”

– Attorney Michael Allen Schwartz, who is representing former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is accused of violating the terms of his probation by skirting a restitution order.

Schwartz was reacting to Worthy’s court filings to compel Kilpatrick and others to disclose personal financial information.

“Worthy last week obtained subpoenas to compel Kilpatrick and his employer to hand over information, contending his restitution payments should be increased. [Wayne County Circuit Court Judge David] Groner also set a hearing for Oct. 29, when Kilpatrick may be called to answer questions,” reports The Detroit News.

Schwartz also says Groner should be disqualified from the case.

From The News:

[Schwartz says] Groner must be disqualified from the case stemming from the text message scandal because he could be called as a witness to what he said are false claims Worthy has made about Kilpatrick’s failure to disclose his personal worth.

“It just so happens that Groner has personal knowledge of whether Mr. Kilpatrick made (financial disclosures),” Schwartz said. “When he has personal knowledge, he must be disqualified, because he may be called as a witness. You can’t have a witness in a case where he’s a judge.”

Kwame expected in court for probation violation hearing

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy apparently has had more than
enough of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s alleged flaunting of a $1 million resitution order.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Worthy “forced the issue Wednesday, filing a motion accusing Kilpatrick of violating his probation by cutting his restitution payment in half, failing to turn over his pensions, and ignoring a court order requiring him to disclose information about his personal finances.”

And, reports The Detroit News, Worthy expects Kilpatrick to attend an Oct. 28 evidentiary hearing on the matter before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge David Groner.

Kilpatrick’s lawyer, Michael Alan Schwartz, has justified Kilpatrick’s self-imposed 50 percent trim of his restitution payments from $6,000 a
month to $3,000 per month because the former mayor has had his paycheck cut in half.

Schwartz yesterday did not respond to either of the papers’ requests for a comment.

More trouble brewing in Detroit with evidence processing?

The Detroit Free Press reports that Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy wants an outside probe of why thousands of “rape kits” that could contain evidence of sexual assaults were found stacked up in a Detroit Police Department evidence storage facility. From The Freep:

In a Sept. 8 letter to Police Chief Warren Evans, Worthy said there may be more than 10,000 so-called rape kits and hundreds of other pieces of evidence warehoused, unanalyzed, in a police “overflow property room.” The situation raises fears that cases could be affected if the evidence is challenged in court, Worthy said.

Police spokesman John Roach said Monday that Evans has an internal investigation under way, and that so far, police have found no mishandling of evidence and no cases that have been tainted. Roach also said the evidence is secure. …

The police crime lab was shut down a year ago because of an extraordinarily high error rate in firearms cases.

William Winters III, president of the Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar Association, said it may be time for federal authorities to look into the lab and the handling of evidence.