Judge rules sex life of key witness is irrelevant

March 2, 1988

By LAURIE ASSEO
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Gov. Evan Mecham’s impeachment defense lawyers may not use allegations regarding the state police chief’s sex life in an effort to discredit his testimony, the trial’s presiding officer ruled today.

The claims against Ralph Milstead, Department of Public Safety director, by a former department employee are not relevant to the first-term Republican governor’s impeachment trial, Frank X. Gordon Jr. ruled.

Former DPS employee Christine Juul Johnston said in an affidavit taken by defense lawyers that she once had a sexual relationship with Milstead, the key witness in an allegation that Mecham tried to thwart an investigation of an alleged death threat.

She also contended in the affidavit that Milstead threatened her life if the relationship was disclosed, said Gordon, who is chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Milstead has strongly denied the allegations.

The House panel that is overseeing the impeachment trial, the first of a governor in six decades, has asked that Mrs. Johnston’s affidavit be excluded from evidence.

Gordon said he was reserving decision, however, on whether the Senate may consider allegations by Mrs. Johnston that Milstead padded his expense account and misused state vehicles.

The Senate could overrule Gordon’s decision, and he gave senators sealed copies of Mrs. Johnston’s statement so they could make up their minds. The presiding officer directed lawmakers not to discuss the statement’s contents until they make a decision.

Gordon also was asked today by Sen. James Sossaman, a Republican, whether lawmakers should avoid media accounts of the trial or talking to reporters about it.

Gordon said the senators are acting more as judges than jurors. “A judge can’t just divorce himself from what’s going on in the world,” Gordon said.

Testimony resumed today by the governor’s former chief bodyguard, DPS Lt. Beau Johnson, regarding the alleged death threat.

On Tuesday, Johnson testified he told the governor about the alleged threat, which Mecham later denied he knew about.

Johnson said he fully informed the governor about the matter and said it involved the possible felony tampering of a grand jury witness, but did not call it a “death threat.”

The opening testimony focused on what prosecutor William French called evidence that Mecham obstructed justice by trying to block an investigation of the alleged threat.

Mecham and his supporters also lost two separate court battles Tuesday to delay the impeachment trial and cancel a May 17 recall election.

The Arizona Supreme Court unanimously refused to delay the impeachment trial until after Mecham’s March 22 criminal trial on charges of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan.

In Maricopa County Superior Court, Judge Frederick Martone dismissed a pro- Mecham group’s lawsuit alleging that the recall should be canceled because of questionable signatures on petitions.

Appeals of both rulings were under consideration, lawyers for Mecham and Concerned Arizona Voters said.

The first-term Republican governor, interviewed on Cable News Network, said the impeachment trial that began Monday was “an attempt to overthrow a legally elected governor.”

“I’m sure there are a number of senators who have their minds made up before the evidence is presented,” Mecham said.

A two-thirds vote of senators is required to convict Mecham. The 30-member Senate also could decide to bar him from ever again holding public office in Arizona.

Mecham, impeached by the House on Feb. 5, is accused of hiding the $350,000 loan, misusing $80,000 from the governor’s protocol fund by loaning it to his auto dealership, and trying to thwart an investigation of the alleged death threat.

Johnson testified that he discussed the alleged threat with Mecham two days before the governor is accused of ordering Department of Public Safety Director Ralph Milstead not to cooperate with the investigation by the state attorney general.

Lee Watkins, then the state prison construction chief, is accused of threatening the life of Donna Carlson, a former Mecham aide who had been scheduled to testify before the state grand jury regarding the $350,000 loan.

DPS Officer Frank Martinez testified Tuesday that state official Peggy Griffith told him on Nov. 13 that Watkins confronted her and said, “Your friend’s been a naughty girl.”

“Mr. Watkins then went on to say if she (Ms. Carlson) kept acting as she did she could take a long boat ride,” Martinez said, quoting Mrs. Griffith.

Johnson testified that he told Mecham of the alleged threat that day. Although he did not use the words “death threat,” he said, “I wanted to make sure he knew this involved a potential felony.”

The governor said under oath in House impeachment hearings last month that he may have told Milstead not to get involved in the investigation, but only because Mecham was unaware that a crime may have been committed.