MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Yesterday, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, were charged with multiple felony counts by Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy. The charges resulted from an investigation that began with a newspaper's publication of private text messages between Beatty and Kilpatrick that implied an intimate relationship between the two. The two had denied having such a relationship in the course of a lawsuit filed by former police officers who said they had been fired in part, to keep their relationship from being discovered. At a press conference, prosecutor Kym Worthy said the issue at hand was not a private matter.
Ms. KYM WORTHY (Wayne County Prosecutor): Some have suggested that the issues in this investigation are personal or private. Our investigation has clearly shown that public dollars were used, people's lives were ruined, the justice system was severely mocked, and the public trust trampled on. This case is about as far from being a private matter as one can get.
MARTIN: A short time later, Mayor Kilpatrick also held a press conference of his own. He said while disappointed, he expects to be fully exonerated.
Mayor KWAME KILPATRICK (Detroit): I look forward to complete exoneration once all the facts surrounding this matter have been brought forth. In the meantime, I will remain focused on moving this city forward with the key initiatives that we've laid out before you.
MARTIN: In a moment, I'm going to speak with Stanley Brand, a veteran Washington attorney who's represented dozens of figures at the center of high-profile investigations. But first, I'm joined by Dan Webb, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's attorney, to discuss the charges. We spoke to him shortly after Mr. Kilpatrick's press conference yesterday. Welcome, Mr. Webb. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Mr. DAN WEBB (Attorney, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick): Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: You indicated at the time of the press conference that you had not yet received the indictment. Have you now?
Mr. WEBB: No, it's now been many, many hours after the charges came down. The prosecution said it was ready to go, and we still don't have the charging document. And so, I don't even have specific charges to respond to other than some oral brief statements made by a prosecutor in a press conference. And I don't have anything more than that to respond to right now.
MARTIN: Do you interpret that as discourtesy or lack of preparedness?
Mr. WEBB: I was disappointed in two regards, quite frankly. One, this is the first time in my career that a prosecutor's office has told me that they will not even hear our side of the story before they've decided to bring charges. We asked to have a meeting with them, and we were told here that this office would not even talk to us, and now there's no charging document.
MARTIN: Can you say, though, whether your client denies that he and Ms. Beatty had a personal relationship?
Mr. WEBB: What I can say without any hesitation is that it's my belief that they've taken testimony in a civil case, they've elevated it to the level of perjury, and in all the years I've been prosecuting cases, I've never seen testimony in a civil case lead to a perjury charge. That's almost always reserved to criminal cases. And the reason for that is a very good one. It's because in civil cases, often the questions are ambiguous. They're not definitive. They often ask for opinions, and that's exactly what happened here.
While I don't have the charging document, based on my review of the mayor's testimony in the civil case, I believe that these charges of perjury are based on vague and ambiguous questions that will not lend themselves to a perjury prosecution, at least a fair perjury prosecution. And I think at trial, the mayor will be exonerated, and a jury will find him not guilty.
MARTIN: What about the obstruction of justice charges?
Mr. WEBB: The obstruction of justice charges, the abuse of the office charges, and the perjury charges, they all emanate from the same allegation dealing with conduct by the mayor in the civil case. I'm not aware in the history of this country, of this prosecutor's office ever elevating a testimony in a civil case and making a perjury case based on it.
And so that raises questions about whether my client has been singled out, which under the law is called selected prosecution, which is not allowed. He's my client...
MARTIN: Excuse me, I'm not an attorney, but if perjury is not possible in a civil matter, why do people testify under oath?
Mr. WEBB: No, I didn't say it wasn't possible. What I said is prosecutors have discretion on whether to bring charges or not. My question that I've raised is only one of the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and singling out my client to elevate his conduct in a civil case to a perjury charge, when in fact that's something that's never been done before.
MARTIN: And what about the obstruction of justice question?
Mr. WEBB: My understanding of the charging document is that the obstruction of justice deals with his testimony in the civil case that was done in a way to hide and not reveal these text messages. And so, all of the charges seem to be connected to his conduct in the civil case as far as I can tell.
MARTIN: You also indicated in your press conference that the basis of this case is these text messages. And it's your view that these text messages could not have been obtained legally. Of course the newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, which initially published them, says that they absolutely were. The prosecutor had indicated that she believes that they were. If I could just ask you briefly, what is the basis of your argument that they could not have been obtained legally?
Mr. WEBB: SkyTel, the possessor of these what's called stored communications, produced the stored messages in a civil case. Not in a criminal cases, a civil case. And based on the Federal Stored Communications Act, that was an illegal production. Those should never have been produced in a civil case, and all I'm raising is that once these documents were illegally produced and were presented out in the world like that, I believe that can taint the rest of the evidence.
MARTIN: But you're not denying that they are valid text messages, that they exist, and that their contents are indeed valid?
Mr. WEBB: No. In order for these messages to be authenticated and offered into evidence, the government, in this case the state prosecutor, is going to have to lay a foundation that these messages are accurate and were properly maintained by SkyTel. I'm not conceding that at all. I actually questioned whether they can be authenticated as true and correct even beyond that. I think the text messages should be suppressed because they were illegally produced in the first place.
MARTIN: So did Mr. Kilpatrick and Ms. Beatty have a personal relationship, as was alleged?
Mr. WEBB: As I've said before, I'm not going to get into that issue. As far as the case is concerned, I will be able to establish at trial that the prosecution simply can't prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. He'll be exonerated.
MARTIN: And finally, the mayor indicated he plans to stay on task. He plans to continue focused on the work for which he was elected. Is it your view that he will be able to do both? Properly prepare with you for his defense and maintain the duties of his office?
Mr. WEBB: Absolutely. I told the mayor, and I believe this very strongly, he doesn't have to worry about the trial. That's mine to worry about. It appears to me it's going to be a relatively contained trial, and I do not believe the mayor will be distracted at all. He can govern the city, he can run the city, and I'll worry about getting ready for trial.
MARTIN: Attorney Dan Webb represents Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. I should mention Mr. Webb that you are also a veteran of a number of high-profile cases, and you are a former federal prosecutor. So we thank you so much for speaking with us.
Mr. WEBB: All right, thank you and have a nice day, Michel.