**FILE** Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, takes the witness stand in the courtroom of Judge Michael J. Callahan in Wayne County's 3rd Circuit Court in this Aug. 29, 2007 file photo. Kilpatrick exchanged romantic and sexually oriented text messages with a top aide, contradicting their denials in court that they had romantic ties, the Detroit Free Press reports, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008. Kilpatrick issued a statement Wednesday night saying the messages "reflect a very difficult period in my personal life." (AP Photo/Gary Malerba, File)
DETROIT – A lawyer who used a salacious trove of text messages as leverage to settle two lawsuits against ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for $8.4 million has been charged with ethics violations, along with four attorneys who worked on the deal.
Mike Stefani "engaged in conduct that is contrary to justice, ethics, honesty or good morals," the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission said in a nine-page complaint. Staff at the grievance commission act as investigators and prosecutors of misconduct by lawyers.
"I was simply representing my clients to the best of my ability," Stefani said. "I'm not going to accept allegations that I'm dishonest or committed a crime." He added: "I'm going to defend my reputation."
The text messages were "irrefutable" evidence that Kilpatrick, a lawyer, committed perjury at a 2007 civil trial when he denied having an affair with a top aide, but Stefani didn't notify the commission in a timely manner, investigators said.
Stefani obtained Kilpatrick's text messages by sending a subpoena to SkyTel Inc., the city's communications provider.
The messages arrived in October 2007, a few weeks after the police officers' trial. The officers claimed Kilpatrick punished them because they were investigating wrongdoing by his inner circle.
Stefani disclosed the messages to city attorneys while trying to negotiate his legal fees, the result of winning his case, and said he would unveil them in a court filing the next day, the complaint said. Kilpatrick then agreed to the deal.
The commission said Stefani used the messages to get a settlement and agreed to conceal them, and "Kilpatrick's perjury," as part of the deal.
The Detroit City Council didn't know about the messages when it approved the settlement. The deal trumped an earlier $6.5 million jury verdict.
Stefani said it's "nonsense" that he was covering up for Kilpatrick.
Scandal erupted in January 2008 when the Detroit Free Press published some messages, which detailed an intense sexual relationship between Kilpatrick and chief of staff Christine Beatty. They subsequently pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and were sent to jail.
Besides Stefani, the other lawyers charged with ethics violations worked for Kilpatrick or the city on the settlement: Sam McCargo, Wilson Copeland II, Valerie Colbert-Osamuede and John Johnson Jr. Messages seeking comment were left with them.
Each case will be assigned to separate three-member panels at the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board. Possible punishments include reprimand, suspension or disbarment.
Grievance administrator Robert Agacinski said he didn't think disbarment was likely, citing the lawyers' history "of representing their clients adequately."