LANSING, Mich. (CN) – The Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to keep quiet documents related to the city’s $8.4 million settlement of a whistleblower lawsuit. The documents are related to the contents of several thousand text messages between Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, with whom he had an affair.
The court’s unanimous decision backed a circuit judge’s order to unseal the documents after two Detroit newspapers sued the city under the Freedom of Information Act.
Detroit argued that the documents should remain sealed because they involved communications between attorneys during court-ordered mediation. But the high court rejected the notion of a FOIA exemption for settlement agreements.
The whistleblowers were two former police officers who came forward with claims that the mayor’s bodyguards were padding their timesheets, drinking on duty and not reporting car accidents. Gary Brown, the deputy police chief for internal affairs, headed the investigation and said the complaints “had some validity to them,” but that he needed more time to investigate.
He never got the time, however, because he was allegedly fired before he could launch a full investigation. On the witness stand, Kilpatrick maintained that Brown had chosen to retire and denied having any romantic involvement with Beatty. The jury was not convinced and it awarded the whistleblowers $6.4 million.
Though Kilpatrick initially vowed to appeal the verdict, the city suddenly reversed course and settled the case for $8.4 million.
The settlement “wasn’t about officers padding the payroll and it wasn’t about the crash cars,” Brown told Nightline. “It was about the mayor being concerned that if we started doing an investigation regarding those issues that the onion would start to unravel, and as we interviewed executive protection officers, that the affair he was having with Christine Beatty might come up.”
Text messages obtained by the whistleblowers’ attorney and released to The Detroit Free Press seemed to support Brown’s view. A May 15, 2003 text message from the mayor to Beatty said, “I’m sorry that we are going through this mess because of a decision that we made to fire Gary Brown.”
In another exchange, Kilpatrick wrote, “I’m madly in love with you,” to which Beatty replied, “I hope you feel that way for a long time. In case you haven’t noticed, I am madly in love with you, too!”
Kilpatrick apologized to the city and his wife for the “embarrassment and disappointment” the affair caused, but refused to step down as mayor. Beatty resigned shortly after the scandal broke.
The city has spent an estimated $9 million of taxpayer money on the case.