What would you do if you were up against five lawyers and one of the most corrupt mayors Detroit has ever seen? Luckily, you don’t have to, Mike Stefani already did it for you.
In college, Stefani’s father encouraged him to go to law school. At the time, his dad was working in real estate and admired the lawyers with whom he attended closings with. Although Stefani enjoyed law, the enforcement side is mainly what interested him.
After law school, Stefani pursed law enforcement where he spent 3 years in the FBI working his way through Washington DC, Memphis, and Philadelphia. He soon realized he was taking on more of the functions of a lawyer than a field agent; he then moved his family back to Michigan to practice law. Leaving the FBI to practice law didn’t slow him down as he taught at the Oakland Police Academy, and served as the police chief of Lake Angelus. Mike also worked on the Detroit Narcotics Task Force, where he met Gary Brown, a friend and soon a key player in one of the most famous lawsuits Detroit has seen to this date. Stefani was shot in a drug raid, and he soon returned to practicing law full time.
In 2003, Gary Brown approached him, in an upset state, saying he had been terminated from the Detroit Police Department (DPD) for investigating the mayor and his executive security team abusing their authority. Stefani vaulted into action calling the Chief of Staff for Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Christine Beatty. He explained that a serious mistake must have been made if such a decorated and highly regarded lieutenant, who had also been wounded in the line of duty, was terminated for doing his job. Beatty refused to acknowledge a wrongdoing had been done, launching the infamous Whistleblower Trials, a lawsuit against Kilpatrick and the City of Detroit.
Stefani joins The Michigander Selfie Series as a defender of Detroit.
Harold Nelthrope soon joined Brown and Stefani when he was terminated after reporting about a wild party at the residence of the then mayor in the city owned Manoogian Mansion. The mayor denied the allegations, but the case pressed on. Four years and three appeals later, Stefani took the case to court against Kwame’s five lawyers.
After tirelessly working, the jury returned the verdict in Brown and Nelthrope’s favor, awarding them $6.4 million dollars. However, the investigator in Stefani still felt as though there was unfinished business regarding the case. He wanted to see the text messages between Beatty and the mayor to bring to settlement with Kilpatrick’s lawyers. Finding them wasn’t easy, but he was able to obtain them and prove that both Kwame and Beatty had lied on the stand to questions regarding why the officers were terminated and their romantic relationship. The lawyers settled under terms that Stefani would never show the messages to anyone, “No one ever asked me if I had already given them to the press.” The Free Press published them soon after, exposing the mayor’s corruption and infidelity.
“Detroit is better off, but it’s an all new ball game,” Stefani says of the end result, which cost him a 30 day suspension for not sending the messages to the judge first. “I was afraid the new judge would destroy them. I believe the original judge was fair and honest, but I didn’t know he was still involved.”
While it’s happily ever after for Brown, Detroit is still rebuilding: “I had no idea the magnitude of the case. It just started out as Gary being fired.”
Stefani would encourage those interested in law to pursue it. He stresses the value of a law school education because it teaches you how to approach problems with analytic thinking. He urges students to explore careers outside the typical law office path and to search federally, locally, and in the state and municipal arenas for work. “There is lots of variety. It’s a great field, exciting and competitive.”
When he’s not practicing law, you can find Mike engaging in his favorite Pure Michigan activity: hunting. He enjoys nature and hunts all over the Mitten State from Oakland County to Gaylord. For deer and squirrel that is, not corrupt mayors (* wink *). Unless another injustice is done, then we know who we can count on!