Students 'decide' Kilpatrick case


Taking part in the recent Law Day Program at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice were (left to right)  Third Judicial Circuit of Michigan Chief Judge Virgil C. Smith and Judge Patricia Fresard, Criminal Division; FOX TV 2 legal analyst and attorney Charlie Langton; and Criminal Division Presiding Judge Timothy Kenny.

By John Minnis

Legal News

FOX 2 TV legal analyst and attorney Charlie Langton put on an Emmy-winning performance — it would have been his fifth — at the recent Law Day Program at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.
Langton’s audience was made up of 89 juniors and seniors from Harper Woods High School, Chandler Park Academy, Casa Richard Academy and Huron High School.
Dressed in a purple pinstriped suit, the energetic legal analyst danced about the jury room testing students’ knowledge of local legal headlines and made them the judge and jury on several recent cases, including that of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
The students were delighted when their peers knew the answers to Langton’s queries, and they were far less forgiving of their former mayor, who is lucky his high school constituents are not judging him.
“Mr. Langton is a very skilled attorney and legal commentator here in Detroit,” said Presiding Judge Timothy Kenny. “He is not only very knowledgeable, he also has the ability to explain very complex legal issues.”
“How many of you want to be lawyers?” Langton asked the students. “It’s a good profession. It’s kind of hard to do, but you can do it.”
He asked the students if they had heard of the Underwear Bomber case from Christmas Eve. They had. He asked about the Sam Riddle case where the suspect allegedly put a shotgun to the head of his girlfriend, former State Rep. Mary Waters. Most students knew the details.
“Anybody hear of Kwame Kilpatrick?” Langton asked. “You’re laughing. This is very serious. What did he do?”
“He lied!” students shouted.
“That’s right,” Langton said. “He lied in court. That’s perjury.”
The students were also aware that the former mayor also faced a felony charge for pushing a police officer and for violating terms of his probation.
“You’re the judge,” Langton told the students. “What should the judge do? Who says jail? Who says no jail?”
The students were divided.
“What about his kids?” Langton asked those students who favored jail.
“He wasn’t thinking of his kids when he broke the law,” the students responded.
Other students felt the former mayor has suffered enough.
“I’d say it’s jail, but it’s very close,” Langton said after a show of hands. “I don’t know what the judge will do. It’s a very tough decision.”
Langton and the students discussed the importance of credibility.
“I’m not a judge,” Langton said, “but I would think if it’s a tough call, as I think this case is, credibility will tip the sales. Is Kwame Kilpatrick credible?”
“No!” shouted the students
“If you want people to respect you, if you want to be successful, you have to have credibility,” Langton told the students. “If you have credibility, you will get favorable treatment in court and, most likely, in life. Credibility goes forever.”
“I had a lot of fun today,” Langton concluded. “Thank you for listening.”
“Thank you for working with him today,” Judge Kenny told the students. “He’s kind of shy, but we’re working on that.”
Judges Linda Parker and Patricia Fresard then announced the winners of the Law Day essay contest.
First-place winner Chynia Robinson read her essay on texting while driving. The second- and third-place entries were read on video.
“What made Chynia’s essay so compelling,” Judge Parker said, “is she used personal experiences to make her argument.”
Students asked the judges what is the most difficult thing about being a judge.
Fresard said it was making tough decisions and trying to be just as fair in all cases.
Parker said the toughest part was sentencing 17- to 25-year-olds.
“I have had to send some very young people to prison for life,” she said. “That’s a very disturbing thing that never leaves you.”
The judges were asked about wrongful convictions.
“We have to make sure everything is done properly,” said Judge Thomas Jackson.
Judge Fresard added, “All of us want to see the right thing done. Even prosecutors don’t want to just prosecute. They want to see justice done.”
Attending the Law Day program was Assistant Judge Kentaro Ono of the Osaka District Court in Japan. He was asked the difference between the U.S. and Japanese legal systems.
“We have a very different system,” Ono said.
With Judge Fresard’s help, it was explained that Japan has more of a tribunal judicial system where few cases are tried. The conviction rate in Japan is greater than 99 percent. When asked, Ono said that yes, Japan does have the death penalty.
Ono said there is far less media coverage of trials in Japan and defendants are accorded much more privacy.
The judges were asked about their personal opinions during trials.
“You have to follow the law,” Fresard said. “You can have an opinion, but you can’t let it prevent you from following the law.”
Judge Jackson, who handled some of the Dr. Jack Kevorkian cases, said he thinks there are some cases where doctor-assisted suicide is OK, “but not in the way Dr. Kevorkian was doing it. You have to separate the human, the personal, from the law.”
Judge Vonda Evans added, “That’s what sets a professional apart from anyone else. You separate your feelings from what you have to do.”
“As I said this morning,” Judge Kenny told the students who sat in many courtrooms earlier in the day, “this is a better way to spend a Friday than taking a math test.”
He thanked Chief Judge Virgil Smith, Court Administrator Ronald Ruffin, Deputy Court Administrator Kelli Moore, Communications Coordinator Libby Shumate and the Law Day committee for putting on the program.
“This is always an exciting time for us, Law Day,” Smith said. “It combines two of my favorite things: young people and the law.”
President Eisenhower established Law Day in 1958. The Law Day 2010 theme was “Law in the 21st Century: Enduring Traditions, Emerging Challenges.”
One of the biggest changes in the law in the 21st century, Judge Kenny said, was the explosion in media coverage, especially on cable.
“With all that coverage, there is a degree of confusion,” he said. “Now we need experts (like Langton) to describe what is happening.”