Lawyers battle in court over key issues in upcoming Kilpatrick corruption trial

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The racketeering trial for Kwame Kilpatrick is one month away – and today defense lawyers and federal prosecutors battled it out in court, as they start streamlining some of the key issues that will come up in this historic trial.

This is the opening act in what's going to be a very lengthy trial. 

The defense teams and federal prosecutors argued back and forth on about 12 different key issues Monday morning in federal court.

Picking a jury will be no easy task in one of the most anticipated trials in Detroit history.

Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, the former mayor's long-time friend Bobby Ferguson, and former water department chief Victor Mercado are all charged in a 46 count indictment.

Kilpatrick is accused of running a criminal enterprise, and the four are facing racketeering and other charges.

"How is your client," 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo asked Kwame Kilpatrick's long-time defense attorney, Jim Thomas. "He's great, he's great.  He's looking forward to the fight," said Thomas.

On Monday, defense lawyers argued several motions – hoping to get some of the counts dropped before the trial begins next month.

"The lawyers from both sides are really trying to narrow the issues.  They're trying to anticipate what evidence might be introduced at the trial, and from a defense perspective, they're also trying to object to certain forms of evidence that they think might be inadmissible," said Channel 7 Legal Analyst Tom Cranmer.

The biggest decision Monday – Judge Nancy Edmunds ruled the jury will be semi- anonymous.

That means only the lawyers and the court will know the names and home zip codes of each of the 18 chosen jurors.  They'll be identified only by number to the defendants, the media and the public – and the attorneys won't be allowed to investigate them.

Several defense lawyers argued that an anonymous jury taints the jurors against the defendants into believing the secrecy is because of safety concerns.

"From a defense lawyers point of view, we'd like to have everything open to the public," said Mike Rataj, one of the members of Bobby Ferguson's defense team.

But the judge said she wants to protect the jurors' privacy as much as possible, and the jurors will be told their identity's are not being kept secret for security concerns – just publicity concerns.

"I'm grateful that she gave it the obvious thought that she did, and I think she decided it as best she could in the circumstances," said John Shea, Bernard Kilpatrick's lawyer.

Ferguson's lawyers argued several charges against him should be dismissed, mainly because the city contractor would have had to have been an elected public official in order for the charges to apply to him.

Two of the bribery counts against Ferguson were dropped – but the others will stand, and Ferguson's defense team says they're ready for battle.

"Bobby's tough as nails, he's fine," said Rataj.

Jim Thomas also asked the judge to decide how she'll handle hearsay statements – when FBI agents reference things that others said during the investigation about the defendants.

"The question is does it further the alleged conspiracy.  And other question is, is it relevant to the conspiracy. It might be idle chatter, it might be something that doesn't even relate to the alleged conspiracy, and so, that would be a basis to say no, it shouldn't come in, and we shouldn't have it introduced into the evidence," said Thomas.

The text messages were also discussed in court Monday.  Federal prosecutors said they plan to introduce about 250 text messages.  The judge issued a preliminary order, saying the texts can be considered authentic from SkyTel (which issued the city pagers used by the defendants during Kilpatrick's term as mayor). 

 "I think the text messages are certainly going to be a central piece of evidence in this case.  Authentication, of course, means making sure that they're genuine, and they are what they purport to be," said Cranmer.

But defense attorneys will still be allowed to challenge the texts, to question whether they are relevant to the case, whether they may be just hearsay, and whether or not SkyTel or the government can even prove who physically wrote the texts.

Everyone will be back in court on Wednesday when a pool of 400 jurors will start filling out questionnaires, and starting the process of picking this jury.

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