Mecham plans strategy for impeachment trial

February 27, 1988

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Two days before the scheduled start of his Senate impeachment trial, Gov. Evan Mecham said he was preparing to ask a federal court to halt it, saying he feared his constitutional rights would be trampled in “a lynch-mob atmosphere.”

“As governor of this state I ask nothing more than is accorded to any garden variety criminal,” the Republican governor told reporters at a news conference.

“Is this a Star Chamber or will we proceed under the time-tested constitutional mandate” that guarantees due process, Mecham said.

Mecham said he was preparing to “seek federal redress on whatever level is appropriate.”

The Senate is scheduled to begin his impeachment trial Monday morning, and Mecham said he and his two new attorneys were prepared to be there if no court ordered the trial halted beforehand.

His attorney, Thomas Crowe, said he had not decided which federal court he would go to to seek a stay or a halt to the trial. The decision might not come until after the trial begins but would be made by Wednesday at the latest, Crowe said.

The state Supreme Court refused Friday to grant a temporary stay and said it would decide Tuesday whether the impeachment trial should be delayed until after Mecham’s March 22 criminal trial on charges of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan. Mecham also faces a May 17 recall election.

Mecham called the news conference Friday night, and some legislators had speculated that he might resign Saturday to avoid having to go through the publicity of a Senate trial, then run in the recall election to regain his office.

If convicted in the criminal trial, he would be unable to enter the runoff, but he would be able to compete if the trial were delayed or he won an acquittal.

The governor told reporters that while a resignation might help him personally, it would have “terrible effects” on other people.

“My resignation would write a bad chapter in the history of Arizona that would be giving in to the powers who have schemed and planned to put so much pressure on me that I would eventually resign,” he said.

Mecham hired Crowe and Washington, D.C., attorney Jerris Leonard last week, leading to the surprise resignation of Mecham attorney Murray Miller.

Miller said Friday that Leonard had admitted to him earlier in the week that he was not prepared to defend the governor Monday and that to do so would be “malpractice.”

However, Mecham said Saturday his attorneys would “drink enough coffee” and prepare through the weekend to be ready Monday.

Mecham complained that Senate attorney John Lundin argued before the Supreme Court on Friday that the Senate did not have to grant the governor many of the same constitutional rights he would receive in criminal court.

“That there is a lynch-mob atmosphere in Arizona is apparent,” he said.

Some lawmakers questioned Saturday whether any federal judge would be willing to grant a stay to block the Senate trial.

“It defies my belief that there could be one, given the doctrine of separation of powers,” said state Sen. Greg Lunn, a Republican who has opposed Mecham. “Were there to be one, I presume we would have to make a decision whether we would comply or not.”

Senate President Carl Kunasek, a Republican, said Saturday it would be up to the 30 senators to decide if they would abide by any federal court stay.

“We’ve got to get going,” said Senate Minority Leader Alan Stephens, a Democrat. “The people of Arizona deserve a fair break and the fair break is that the trial moves forward.”

The House impeached Mecham on Feb. 5 on charges of concealing 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 an alleged death threat.

Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat, became acting governor when Mecham was impeached and would take over as governor in the event of a resignation or conviction in either impeachment or criminal court.

Attorney General Bob Corbin has issued an opinion saying he believes that even if Mecham resigned or were convicted, the recall election would have to be held and Mrs. Mofford would be subject to removal from office. Because of the way the Constitution is written, a recall is aimed at the office, not the officeholder, Corbin said.

However, Stephens said that if Mrs. Mofford became governor before the recall vote, he expected a court to be asked to decide if a recall vote was necessary.