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November 30, 2010 1:30 PM

DOJ Says Former Police Monitor, Not Her Ex-Firms, Should Return $10 Million

Posted by Brian Baxter

Former Saul Ewing and Venable partner Sheryl Robinson Wood, who stepped down last year as a federally mandated police monitor in Detroit as a result of an inappropriate relationship with disgraced ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, could soon be personally on the hook for a steep legal tab if federal prosecutors get their way.

The Detroit Free Press reports that in a filing by federal prosecutors on Monday, the government claims that Wood, not her former firms, should repay Detroit for legal fees incurred during a monitorship that began in 2003 as a result of an agreement the city reached with the Justice Department's civil rights division.

Earlier this month the Motor City's lawyers from Dykema Gossett requested that Wood and her former employers, which include consulting firm Kroll, return more than $10 million in fees, according to our previous reports. The city's lawyers argued that Wood's "secret, personal relationship" with Kilpatrick violated her promise to be "truly independent and unbiased" while serving as police monitor.

On Monday, federal prosecutors agreed with the city's assessment of Wood's conduct, but said it would be unfair to sanction her former employers when they were unaware of her personal conduct.

The 12-page filing, available here courtesy of the Free Press, was made by Jeffrey Murray, a trial attorney with the special litigation section of the Justice Department's civil rights division in Washington, D.C., and also signed by Judith Levy, an assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit.

While Saul Ewing, Venable, and Kroll have yet to file their responses to the government's motion, all three had resisted the disgorgement of any fees for their work. One firm is already expressing appreciation for the government's position and is encouraging the Motor City to adopt the same stance.

"Saul Ewing is gratified that the DOJ acknowledged there is no evidence that our firm had any connection with the alleged conduct or was even aware of it," the firm said in a statement to The Am Law Daily through a spokeswoman. "We agree that this means the City's motion should be denied as to Saul Ewing."

The government's motion against Wood comes on the heels of allegations that she had an affair with Kilpatrick while serving as police monitor, according to The Detroit News.

Earlier this month Norman Yatooma, a Birmingham, Mich.-based lawyer representing the family of slain stripper Tamara Greene, whose 2003 murder spawned an investigation of Kilpatrick, claimed in court documents that the former mayor "struck up a friendship with Wood and eventually engaged in an extra marital affair with her," the Free Press reports.

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