Senate refuses to delay Arizona governor’s impeachment trial

February 25, 1988

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Senate on Wednesday refused to grant a second delay of Gov. Evan Mecham’s impeachment trial, scheduled to begin Monday.

The Senate voted 21-6 to reject a defense motion to delay the Senate trial until after the first-term Republican governor’s criminal trial on charges of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan. That trial begins March 22.

In addition, a motion to grant a two-week delay failed in a voice vote.

Mecham’s attorneys argued that his right to a fair trial in criminal court would be jeopardized by the publicity surrounding an impeachment trial. Also, they contended that they needed more time so the governor’s new lawyers, Jerris Leonard and Tom Crowe, could prepare.

“I can’t do everything all at once and I will not sacrifice my client’s rights for one moment,” said Mecham attorney Murray Miller. “They’re (prosecutors) trying to sandbag the governor with respect to his rights … not giving him a moment to prepare his case.”

The House impeached Mecham Feb. 5 on charges of hiding the $350,000 loan, misusing $80,000 in state money by loaning it to his auto dealership, and trying to thwart an investigation of an alleged death threat. Mecham has denied any wrongdoing. He also faces a May 17 recall election.

William French, the prosecutor in the impeachment case, said senators gave Mecham a reasonable delay when they earlier put off the trial for a week. “It’s time to get on with this matter,” French said.

French and co-prosecutor Paul Eckstein had asked that Mecham be held in contempt for missing a Wednesday deadline for producing a list of possible witnesses. But the Senate gave Mecham’s attorneys until Friday to comply.

Asked why no witness lists or motions had been filed for the Senate trial, Mecham said in Tucson on Wednesday that he was “leaving the legal stuff to the attorneys” and that he would “handle the political stuff.”

Leonard said he had been hired by Mecham to take over the Senate trial from Miller, who will continue to represent Mecham in criminal court.

Leonard ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin in 1968 and in 1969 was named director of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration by President Nixon. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney general.