Judge discusses Kilpatrick, terrorism cases


– Photo by John Minnis

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds (center), who most recently handled the Kwame Kilpatrick case as well as the “Underwear Bomber” terrorist case, addressed Grosse Pointe Rotarians at their recent luncheon meeting. Edmunds, who attended with her attorney husband, Bill, discussed the measures taken to seat an impartial jury in the highly publicized case involving the former Detroit mayor. Regarding the terrorism case, Edmunds said she thought the federal courts were up to the challenge of handling complex cases involving terrorism and the Guantanamo detainees. Pictured with the judge and husband Bill Edmunds (third from right) are Jon Gandelot, Sean Byrne, Dino Valente, Mike Carmody, President Paul Rentenbach,  Ted Everingham and Dick Allison.

By John Minnis
Legal News

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds has had some difficult cases before her — motorcycle gangs, Chris Webber, the Underwear Bomber — so when she says the Kwame Kilpatrick case was an experience, that’s saying something.

The difficulty surrounding the former Detroit mayor’s case was the jury — from the selection process to safeguarding its privacy. Standard procedures were not enough.

“Because of the incredible amount of publicity that preceded the Kilpatrick case, we knew we couldn’t do that,” Edmunds told Grosse Pointe Rotarians at their Nov. 11 luncheon meeting.

The jury selection process actually began two months before the trial date, she said. Some 750 jury duty notices were mailed. Out of those, several hundred claimed hardship or did not wish to serve.

“In this case, because I knew it would be such a long trial,” Edmunds explained, “if someone said they could not serve, we didn’t bring them in.”

She then added quickly, “Don’t think you can do that if you get called for jury duty on another case!”

About 400 potential jurors were called in batches and made to answer an extensive questionnaire. “We got some back that said, ‘Guilty! Guilty! Guilty,’ so we didn’t bother with them,” the judge said.

The results were shared with defense and prosecution attorneys, who were then asked to rate the juror candidates as yes, no or maybe.

The “yes” pile numbered 50, along with 120 maybes.

After voir dire in open court with the press present, 12 anonymous jurors were selected — six whites, five blacks and one Hispanic; nine women, three men.

“We had an incredibly diverse jury with people from all ages,” Edmunds  said. Court was held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to allow the jurors time to conduct some work or business around the trial. Even so, the judge had to call a dozen of the jurors’ employers. “Every single one was cooperative and continued to cooperate throughout the trial,” she said. “The trial took six months.”

The jury deliberated for three weeks before finding Kilpatrick and his codefendants guilty. The former mayor was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

“Sentencing has always been for me the most difficult part of any criminal case,” Edmunds said.

Noting that the Kilpatrick case is on appeal “and will be for a couple of years,” Edmunds said she could not say much about the trial.

She did say that the appeal is largely based on the fact that Kilpatrick requested a new court-appointed attorney during the trial and Edmunds refused.

“That is probably the main issue Mr. Kilpatrick has currently on appeal,” she said. “What he is really arguing for is a new trial, and I really hope that doesn’t happen. I don’t think it will happen, but you never know.”

The judge did not have much to say about the Underwear Bomber — the Nigerian man who confessed to attempting to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 en route from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009 — except to explain that she gave him two life sentences because of his “attempt to kill all those people.”

When asked, Edmunds opined that she thought the federal courts were up to adjudicating terrorism cases, including the Guantanamo detainees.

“I do feel very strongly that the U.S. federal courts are the best place to do it,” she said. “I am very much in favor of trying those cases in the U.S. federal courts, not a special Gitmo court. I don’t see why it can’t be handled.”

Concerning the University of Michigan basketball scandal involving player Webber and booster Ed Martin, the judge noted that Martin’s death during the case pretty much ended it as Martin was the only one who could testify against Webber.

“All I could do was impose a fine, but I thought he needed more than a fine,” Edmunds said. “So I amended the terms of probation and mandated some community service not involving basketball.”

That community service turned into the Chris Webber Foundation and the Wee Readers program that provides pregnant mothers with their first book to be read to their children once they are born.

“He did step up to the plate on that one,” Edmunds acknowledged.

Edmunds was appointed to the federal bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush. Prior to taking the bench, Edmunds was a partner with Dykema Gossett.

“Dykema was a great place to work,” she said. Before joining Dykema, she served as a law clerk to U.S. District Senior Judge Ralph Freeman.

“I was just lucky,” she said. “I was in the right place at the right time.

President Bush was under pressure to appoint more women to the bench, and I had trial experience.”

Edmunds met her future husband, Bill Edmunds, while they were law students at Wayne State University. He graduated No. 2 in his class. She was No. 1.

“Bill grew up in Grosse Pointe,” Edmunds told the Rotarians. “So this is a real pleasure for me to be here today.”