Former Detroit Mayor Kilpatrick raises possible conflict of interest with his lawyer


There are new concerns about a potential conflict with the former mayor and his attorney in the Kilpatrick corruption trial.

Detroit's former mayor is still greeted as a celebrity on the streets outside the federal courthouse – but inside he's about to start fighting for his freedom.

Today – a surprising revelation when Kwame Kilpatrick raised a conflict of interest issue involving his lawyer, Jim Thomas.

7 Action News has learned that Thomas once represented someone who could be called as a witness.

Judge Nancy Edmunds said Kilpatrick had raised the conflict as a problem that could keep the case from going forward with his current legal team.

Thomas isn't talking about the conflict – other than to say this case will go forward, with him.

"I'm not withdrawing at this time, and I have no intention of withdrawing," said Thomas.

The judge will hold a hearing to address the conflict on Tuesday, which means the lawyers won't receive the questionnaires from prospective jurors until next week.

"I don't think there's any chance that I'm not going to be doing this trial.  We have really, really agonized over the trial date, and the preparation for this case," said Thomas.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Judge Edmunds welcomed 400 potential jurors from nine different counties to the federal courthouse. 

The jurors stayed in a sealed room on the first floor, with paper over the windows so they can stay anonymous. 

From a two-way video conference the jurors watched the former mayor, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, his longtime friend Bobby Ferguson, and former water department chief Victor Mercado – who were all on the 8th floor.

Kilpatrick is accused of running a criminal enterprise.  The judge described the dozens of charges, including bribery, extortion, and racketeering in the indictment to the jurors.  But she made it very clear that an indictment contains no evidence of guilt – and they will have to decide the case based only on what's presented in court.

"I thought the judge did an excellent job summarizing the indictment.  And highlighting the presumption of innocence," said Mike Rataj, one of the lawyers defending Ferguson. 

"What is your defense team looking for in a juror," asked 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.

"It's pretty simple Heather:  someone who can be fair and impartial and put all the garbage that they've heard over the last couple of years to the side," said Rataj.

After the judge briefed the jurors, they spent hours filling out a 25-page questionnaire.  That will help the lawyers whittle down the jury pool from 400 to 80 potential jurors to be called back for voir dire. 

Ultimately 18 will be chosen: 12 jurors, with 6 alternates. 

The trial is expected to last at least four months.

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