DETROIT (WXYZ) - Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick says he is innocent and there’s no plea deal in the works.
He goes to trial on federal charges next year in a case that will make history in the city and the man who may hold the key to keeping Kwame Kilpatrick free is talking exclusively with Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.
A veteran courtroom gladiator; a computer whiz turned lawyer; and an iPad. That’s the trio that stands between Kwame Kilpatrick and decades behind bars.
At least five federal prosecutors, along with countless FBI and IRS agents spent five years amassing a huge investigation into the former Detroit mayor’s alleged criminal enterprise.
The result: a 38 count indictment charging Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, and others with racketeering, fraud, and bribery.
The case involves wiretaps, videos, page after page of witness testimony, and of course text messages.
Now the lawyer who has stood by Kilpatrick’s side from the beginning must wade through mountains of material to mount a defense. Two terabytes to be exact – that’s equal to all the information contained on two floors of a college library.
“That’s a lot of reading,” says Detroit attorney Jim Thomas.
Thomas has been defending high profile clients in complicated cases for more than 30 years, but says the Kilpatrick case will be one of the biggest and most demanding of his career.
“It is probably the most interesting case that I’ve had in all my years. I like the intellectual challenge,” Thomas says.
The Kilpatrick case marks a first for this seasoned lawyer. Hundreds of thousands of pages of discovery materials are all “in the cloud” – which means multiple secure computer servers hold all the information on the web. Translation: no cumbersome paper files.
“On the cloud, you can index the information, you can cross reference it, you can annotate it, and you can collaborate it, because it’s not only accessible to just the person, but also to the team,” said Thomas.
That team consists of Thomas, and his young associate Michael Naughton – a lawyer who lives and breathes computers.
Naughton has set up the cloud so he and Thomas can access the entire case on an iPad.
“Everything is instant, it’s searchable, it’s all right there, and you can get it anywhere,” says Naughton.
Since Naughton and Thomas are court-appointed to defend Kilpatrick they say that efficiency ultimately saves the taxpayers money.
“It has saved us literally thousands of hours, something that otherwise would be impossible to prepare for in a year and a half, is now manageable,” says Thomas.
A protective order prevents Thomas from talking in detail about the case, but he says he has been in close communication with the feds for years – ever since Kilpatrick hired him back in 2008 after Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged the former mayor with perjury.
“We knew there was a federal investigation pending. There was a hope that we’d be able to keep the case from being charged, by interaction with the assistant U.S. Attorneys in the case, and monitoring what was going on,” said Thomas.
But the charges that so many expected finally rained down on Kilpatrick last year.
“Does it bother you that a lot of people presume he’s guilty,” asked Catallo.
“You know, I do criminal defense. My job is to stand up. Public opinion is not relevant when you’re talking about a trial by jury. When those people have spoken, that’s when a determination as to his innocence or guilt is going to be made,” said Thomas.
Thomas says his client has maintained his innocence from the start, so they are not considering a guilty plea, and Kilpatrick has not been offered one.
As of right now, they’re going to trial in September of 2012.
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