DETROIT (AP) _ He travels in his own Boeing 737. He won a $240 million verdict against Disney. He “can’t stand to lose.” And he’s on the job for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
He’s the “giant killer,” attorney Willie E. Gary, who filed a lawsuit for Kilpatrick this week against Skytel over steamy text messages that helped bring the mayor down.
Gary‘s Web site notes that he’s won more than 150 cases where awards or settlements were more than $1 million each. That’s good news for Kilpatrick. His legal victories have been few.
“He’s a good guy,” Gary said Wednesday. “Sometimes, for whatever reason, you have some storms in your life. It’s going to pass over. People make mistakes. I’m just happy he went in and paid his dues.”
The “in” is jail, where the two conferred on three occasions after Kilpatrick entered pleas in two criminal cases, resigned his office, lost his law license, served 99 days and was ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to the city.
“I have so much respect for all of the lawyers that have been working for the former mayor,” Gary said. “They are at the top of their games in the criminal arena, but this is a whole different court.”
Gary‘s law firm has opulent headquarters along the St. Lucie River in Stuart, about 100 miles north of Miami. He has a 50-room mansion in Stuart. His custom jetliner, “Wings of Justice II,” seats 32 and subs as an office in the air.
Gary wouldn’t say how much the plane cost, but said he poured $11 million into refurbishing and decorating the interior. The work includes an 18-karat gold sink, leather seats, carpeting and a $1.2 million sound system.
He’s also the chairman of the Black Family Channel, a 24-hour cable channel billed as being devoted to “family values” programming aimed at urban viewers.
It’s all part of his “American Dream.”
Now a millionaire “many times over,” he says he was raised poor and picked crops in southern migrant farming communities. He got a degree in business administration from Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., where he was co-captain of the football team, and went on to earn his law degree at North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C.
Gary says the $100 million demand he made to Skytel “could go up.”
“I can’t stand to lose,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “You’ve got to outwork the opponent. I don’t think there is a lawyer in America that is going to outwork Willie Gary.”
Explicit excerpts first published by the Detroit Free Press in January 2008 contradicted testimony Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, gave during a 2007 whistle-blowers’ trial when they denied having a relationship and their roles in the firing of a police official.
A prosecutor later filed perjury and other charges against the two.
Kilpatrick eventually pleaded guilty to a pair of felony obstruction charges and no contest to assaulting a prosecutor’s investigator. Beatty pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 120 days in jail.
Kilpatrick’s civil suit against Clinton, Miss.-based SkyTel was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Mississippi. The text messages were confidential and SkyTel violated federal law by releasing them following the whistle-blowers’ trial, according to the suit. The suit says the messages were divulged after SkyTel received a subpoena from a lawyer representing police officers in the case.
Prosecutors later also obtained copies of the messages, many of which have now been made public, including a batch earlier this week.
Birmingham, Mich., attorney Thomas Plunkett has represented SkyTel in litigation involving the texts and said Tuesday the company was “compelled” by courts to release the messages. He said Thursday that the company won’t comment further on Kilpatrick’s suit.
Pictured above is Willie Gary.