Exit Mecham, Unbowed; Exeunt Lawyers, Puzzled

April 7, 1988

By LINDSEY GRUSON
New York Times

The first gubernatorial impeachment trial in nearly 60 years had a full complement of lawyers, last-minute switches of lawyers, lawyers appearing as witnesses and one or two literary allusions to lawyers.

A few days before his impeachment trial opened here, Evan Mecham, who was convicted and removed from office Monday, hired a new team of lawyers, led by Jerris Leonard and Fred Craft, a friend of the Governor who hadn’t tried a case in 20 years.

Since Mr. Craft was standing next to him when the Governor was told that a senior aide had threatened a grand jury witness, the prosecution called Mr. Craft as a hostile witness.

Mr. Craft completed his testimony and asked permission to address the State Senate, which was hearing the case.

“Are you a witness now or a lawyer?” asked the presiding officer, Chief Justice Frank X. Gordon Jr. of the State Supreme Court.

“I’m now not a witness,” Mr. Craft testified. “Well, I guess I’m sworn as a witness. I guess I don’t know what I am. I’m confused, Mr. Presiding Officer.” Words on the Wall

In cross-examination on the charge that Mr. Mecham obstructed justice, Sam Steiger, a former special assistant to the Governor, was asked to quote a plaque he had tacked on his office wall.

“First thing you do is kill all the lawyers,” said Mr. Steiger, a former United States Representative who is currently on trial here for extortion.

A prosecutor, Paul Eckstein, then asked whether he knew the origin of the saying.

“Henry VI,” Mr. Steiger responded.

“Do you know what immediately precedes that?” Mr. Eckstein asked.

“No,” Mr. Steiger answered. “And if it mitigates the contents, then I don’t want to know.”

“Mr. Steiger, I would very much like you to know,” Mr. Eckstein said. He continued by acknowledging that he wasn’t a Shakespearean scholar, but nonetheless apparently began quoting from memory.

“If we want injustice and corruption to run rampant over the land, the first thing we do is kill all the lawyers,” Mr. Eckstein said dramatically.

“Oh, counselor,” Mr. Steiger sighed, “I think that is a legal construction of what is otherwise a very cogent phrase.”

An easy two points for the prosecution.

Of Lambs and Parchment

Or so it appeared, for two weeks. Then Mr. Steiger was recalled to the stand. Mr. Leonard concluded his questioning for the defense by asking if the witness recalled the Shakespearean exchange.

“I was hoping you’d ask that,” Mr. Steiger said, requesting permission from the presiding officer to read the quotation from his notes.

“I wish you would,” the judge replied. “I looked it up, too.”

Mr. Steiger began by recalling Mr. Eckstein’s quote. “He said something about if you would have raping and pillage in the land, you would first kill all the lawyers,” Mr. Steiger claimed.

Acknowledging that he had only read one page of the play, he proceeded to the passage.

“Is not this a lamentable thing that the skin of an innocent lamb should be made into parchment and that parchment, being scribbled over, should undo a man,” he read.

“In other words, why kill a lamb, to make a piece of parchment, to make a lawyer,” he continued.

“I submit to you that there is nothing in there that redeems the profession.”

Unusual Switch at End

The final decision was also marked by an unusual vote.

Senator Jeff Hill, Republican of Tucson, remained a staunch ally of the Governor to end. He was among the tiny minority who voted to acquit Mr. Mecham on all counts.

In a reversal, Mr. Hill then voted to disqualify his fellow Republican, who retains an ardent following, from ever again holding public office.

“I wanted to expose those who voted for purely political reasons,” he said.