State files suit to force Mecham to relinquish protocol fund

August 12, 1988

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Former Gov. Evan Mecham says a lawsuit seeking to wrest an $80,000 protocol fund from him is “frivolous” and he expects to win a court fight over the money, which was central to his impeachment conviction.

The state of Arizona brought suit against Mecham on Thursday aimed at forcing him to give the money to Gov. Rose Mofford, the Democrat who succeeded Mecham when he was convicted on impeachment charges April 4.

Mecham, however, told reporters that he mailed the money back to the original 687 contributors Thursday.

Valley National Bank spokesman Steve Roman said the bank will not pay on the checks until a court decides who is entitled to the money.

Mecham called the lawsuit “one of the biggest travesties of a waste of taxpayers’ money on a frivolous lawsuit I’ve ever seen.”

He predicted the court would declare the fund to be private money, thus proving the Senate had no grounds to convict him of misusing $80,000 from the fund by loaning it to his auto dealership. Mecham also was convicted of trying to thwart a probe of an alleged death threat.

Attorney General Bob Corbin, who filed the civil suit, said he believes the protocol fund belongs to the state. Corbin unsuccessfully prosecuted Mecham in criminal court in May on charges of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan.

The lawsuit asks that Mecham be forced to give the state all the money remaining in the account as of April 5, the day after he was removed from office.

Corbin and Mrs. Mofford decided to sue after Mecham rejected a state offer that would have allowed him to return the money to the donors after providing a full accounting of the funds and asking the contributors if they wanted to give the money to charity.

“We’ve made an offer to him; he rejected it,” Corbin said. “That’s still on the table.”

The protocol fund at one time totaled about $92,000, but Mecham has said some of the money was spent on state purposes.

The fund was created with receipts from Mecham’s January 1987 inaugural ball, and Mecham originally intended to use the receipts to help repay his campaign debt. But questions were raised about whether the inaugural fund raising complied with Arizona’s campaign finance law, and the money was converted to a protocol fund in June 1987 in an agreement with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

That agreement, signed by Mecham Inaugural Committee Chairman Bill Long, said the money was to be used “solely for purposes of promoting the interests of the state, or to promote and encourage citizen public service to the state.”

But Mecham has contended he was unaware of the agreement and is not bound by it.

The lawsuit said Mecham “has for financial gain knowingly exercised control over the protocol fund with the intent to deprive the Office of the Governor of control of those funds.”