Mecham legal waters keep getting muddier

March 2, 1988

By the Phoenix Gazette

Remember March 1, 1988. It was a day when no fewer than 21 lawyers fanned out across Phoenix to argue about Evan Mecham.

Laymen following the impeached governor’s legal cases need scorecards to comprehend Tuesday, when:

Fred Craft. Click to enlarge.

Fred Craft. Click to enlarge.

♦ Fred Craft, Mecham’s lobbyist and political confidant, admitted that he had written himself out of a crucial scene in the Senate impeachment trial by acting as one of Mecham’s defense attorneys.

Craft himself is a witness to events that led to an article of impeachment: Mecham’s alleged attempt to obstruct an investigation into a death threat.

During cross-examination Tuesday, Craft asked a witness to recount events that Craft himself had witnessed. Setting the scene, be referred to himself in the third person as “Mr. Craft.”

♦ The state Supreme Court unanimously denied Mecham’s attempt to have the impeachment trial delayed. An appeal is possible.

♦ Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Frederick Martone threw out a lawsuit filed by Concerned Arizona Voters challenging the validity of the May 17 gubernatorial recall election.

Martone said the plaintiffs had not proved that recall petition signatures were fraudulently obtained. An appeal is possible.

♦ Attorney Murray Miller, Mecham’s once vocal defender in the impeachment and criminal cases, formally withdrew from the criminal case, in which Mecham is accused of six felonies and his brother Willard faces three.

♦ Miller was replaced as Mecham’s criminal defense attorney by Michael Scott, whose role immediately was questioned by Assistant Arizona Attorney General Barnett Lotstein.

Lotstein, who will help prosecute the Mecham brothers in Superior Court, told Judge Michael Ryan that Scott could have a conflict of interest in defending both Mechams.

Told of Lotstein’s worries, Scott replied: I will take care of my own conflicts and he (Lotstein) can keep his own house clean. Lotstein is sticking his nose somewhere where it doesn’t belong.”

♦ Lotstein told Ryan that he feared that Jerris Leonard — who with Craft is handling Mecham’s impeachment defense — might have access to transcripts of testimony taken by the state grand jury that indicted the Mecham brothers. “According to Scott, Leonard will not defend Evan Mecham in Superior Court. Lotstein said Leonard “is not entitled to grand jury documents.”

♦ Former Gov. Bruce Babbitt said, “That’s absurd” when told that Tempe developer and attorney Barry Wolfson had alleged that Charles Manatt, a senior partner in Leonard’s former law firm, telephoned Babbitt in 1985 and warned him» not to block a bond deal on which Manatt’s and Wolfson’s law firms were working.

Babbitt said: “Chuck Manatt never called me to discuss this. If Chuck Manatt had called, I’d have remembered it.

Manatt is a former Democratic National Committee chairman.

Babbitt’s name came up in a statement Wolfson released alleging that Leonard might have a conflict in representing Mecham because Leonard’s former law firm had done business with Wolfson’s.

Leonard said Tuesday that he would “not dignify” Wolfson’s charge with a replay.

Mecham said: “Jerris, if he’d of had a conflict of interest, he would have told me and he wouldn’t have handled the case.”

Meanwhile, back at the impeachment trial, Sen. Jaime Gutierrez, D-Tucson, said Craft’s role “raises some fairly disturbing questions.”

Two witnesses — Department of Public Safety officers Frank Martinez and Charles “Beau” Johnson — told the “Senate that Craft was present when Johnson informed Mecham that one of his aides, Lee Watkins, had threatened another aide, Donna Carlson, a grand jury witness.

Johnson’s conversation with Mecham is critical, because Mecham contends that he did not know that the threat was serious or that it might have constituted a crime.

Craft said after the trial Tuesday that what Johnson told Mecham “is subject to interpretation.” But he would not disclose his.

Craft told the Senate that under its trial rules, he cannot be forced to testify since he represents Mecham.

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Gordon, the presiding officer, concurred, saying the Senate should have addressed the topic last week when it voted to let Craft defend the governor.

Craft at the time was not listed as a witness.

Senate special counsel John Lundin said Craft has an advantage.

“By having been a material witness himself, there is a presence or effect felt because in some instances he was personally involved,” Lundin said.

The Arizona Supreme Court’s rules of ethical conduct for lawyers say an attorney to be called as a witness should not serve as counsel in a case unless both sides agree beforehand, unless the testimony involves legal fees or unless the attorney’s withdrawal would hurt the client.

Sen. Jones Osborn, D-Yuma, said he doubted that the Senate would change its rule or compel Craft to testify. He said that would open the door to defense subpoenas of House prosecutors Paul Eckstein, a former campaign adviser to Democratic gubernatorial recall candidate Carolyn Warner, and William French, whose investigation paved the way for the House impeachment vote.

Gazette reporters Pat Flannery, .|.W. Brown, Victor Dricks, Anthony Somrner and Michael Murphy contributed to this report.