Gov. Jennifer Granholm opened an extraordinary hearing Wednesday to determine whether Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick committed misconduct and should be removed from office in a scandal over steamy text messages and a multimillion-dollar legal settlement.
Granholm gave brief opening remarks after Kilpatrick's lawyers failed the day before to persuade courts to stop the hearing, which drew members of the public as early as sunrise to a state office building.
Granholm will hear evidence over allegations by the Detroit City Council that Kilpatrick mislead it when it approved an $8.4 million settlement with fired police officers. Council members say they didn't know the deal also covered up steamy text messages between Kilpatrick and his top aide, Christine Beatty, on city-issued pagers.
Michigan governors have a constitutional authority to remove elected officials for misconduct, but the target never has been the leader of the state's largest city. The hearing is expected to last several days.
"The burden of proof is sufficient evidence satisfactory to the governor," Granholm said in her remarks. "This is not a criminal trial. This is not a civil trial."
Kilpatrick skipped the hearing. His attorney, Sharon McPhail, attacked council members who asked for the removal hearing, saying they are Kilpatrick's political rivals. She said it was city lawyers who settled the case with former police officers, not the mayor.
"It's too stupid to be plausible" that Kilpatrick had a secret pact to cover up embarrassing text messages, McPhail said.
She warned the governor that removing the mayor would have a chilling effect on officials statewide. The last time a Michigan governor considered the removal of an elected official was in 1982. In that case, Gov. William Milliken found a township official guilty of official misconduct but let him stay in office if he stopped drinking.
Besides the removal hearing, Kilpatrick faces 10 felonies in two criminal cases.
Granholm, a fellow Democrat, has pared the case to two issues: Did Kilpatrick settle the lawsuits for personal gain because he feared release of the text messages and did he conceal information from the City Council.
Kilpatrick's legal team has criticized Granholm, claiming her opinion on the mayor's future is clouded by her role in trying to broker a settlement in his criminal case in May. Resignation apparently was on the table.
"I listed the positions of the parties on a blackboard and suggested a path that was a compromise," Granholm said in an affidavit. "I made it clear that this suggestion was intended solely as a device to begin their discussion."
The Michigan Court of Appeals found nothing sinister Tuesday.
The removal hearing is just one of three legal minefields for Kilpatrick. He also faces 10 felonies in two criminal cases in Wayne County Circuit Court.
After the Detroit Free Press published the text messages earlier this year, Kilpatrick and Beatty were charged with perjury, conspiracy, misconduct and obstruction of justice.
They are accused of lying during the 2007 whistle-blowers' trial about having an extramarital affair and their roles in the firing of a deputy police chief.
Two assault charges against the mayor stem from a confrontation in July. A sheriff's detective says Kilpatrick shoved him into another investigator as they were attempting to serve a subpoena to the mayor's friend in the perjury case.
Despite his courtroom losses Tuesday, the mayor did get a small victory: A judge said he could stop wearing an electronic tether that keeps track of his whereabouts. Travel restrictions that keep Kilpatrick in the metro Detroit area won't change.