Mecham’s lawyer resigns days before impeachment trial

February 26, 1988

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. — On the eve of what would have been the greatest challenge of his 30-year legal career, the man who has been impeached Gov. Evan Mecham’s lead lawyer for months has resigned.

Murray Miller, 60, who with his son has defended the governor through impeachment proceedings as well as Mecham’s criminal indictment, said in a brief interview today that “I was fully in charge of the case” as late as Wednesay night, after his appearance before the Senate impeachment court.

Miller still was acting for the governor Thursday evening in filing motions with the Senate challenging the adequacy of the impeachment charges, but he would say today only that the decision to withdraw came Thursday night and that he hoped the Senate would not suspect that he had deceived it.

As for Mecham, Miller, said, “My main concern is that the governor gets a fair legal shake.”

Earlier Miller had said a “lynch mob atmosphere” was undermining his fight to save the governor from an impeachment conviction.

“They’re trying to sandbag the governor,” Miller had said, referring to Mecham’s foes in and out of the state Senate which is scheduled to convene as a court Monday.

“If they convict him, they can also stamp the Dracula clause,” said the metaphor-prone attorney. “They can bar him from holding office for life – putting the stake through his heart.”

Miller declined to discuss the reasons for his resignation. However, Mecham hired five additional attorneys early this week, including Jerris Leonard, a Washington attorney and former congressman, and Miller said earlier the Leonard move came as a surprise.

“That was the first time I met him, when he walked in here on Tuesday,” Miller had said with a shrug. “I spoke with the governor and he said he was bringing (Leonard) on board for advice.”

The Senate dealt Leonard a setback Wednesday night, however, rebuffing his plea for a delay to let him catch up on the case but agreeing to let Leonard join the defense team. Miller had said at the time he would be the lead counsel “at the beginning” because he was most familiar with the case.

Leonard resigned from the Washington law firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg, Tunney and Evans because of his decision to take the case, Charles T. Manatt, a senior partner, confirmed today.

“Jerris Leonard informed the firm last week that he had been contacted by Gov. Mecham concerning representation,” Manatt said. “We made it clear that the firm was not interested in representing Governor Mecham, and Mr. Leonard informed us that he has resigned from the firm.”

The 23-count impeachment accused Mecham of concealing a campaign loan, diverting money from the governor’s protocol fund for private use and obstructing justice in the investigation of a death threat allegation.

Miller said he believes Mecham is innocent, but that it is impossible for the Republican governor to get a fair trial even though the GOP controls both houses of the Legislature.

“You really have a lynch mob atmosphere in the city,” Miller said.

“You’re not dealing with a neutral jury,” he said. “You’re dealing with senators who may be predisposed against the governor. … I’ll try to beseech them to keep an open mind. But, politicians being what they are, I’m not sure that’s going to be possible.”

If Mecham faces difficult odds, he had in Miller an attorney who knows how it feels to be an underdog.

Described by colleagues as talkative and tenacious, the New York-born lawyer is the son of European immigrants and was the youngest of six children raised in a one-bath, two-bedroom Brooklyn tenement.

Miller recalled nostalgically how he waded through snowdrifts to carry his father’s lunch to his upholstery shop.

“Oh, Dad, you’re telling those stories again,” chided his son Rick, 28, who joined his father’s law practice a year ago. Another Miller son is a court stenographer and a third is about to enter law school.

Miller was sent by the Army to New Mexico where he met and married Zelda Cohen, a registered nurse, and attended the University of New Mexico.

A job selling X-ray equipment brought them to Arizona, where he decided to try law school. Mrs. Miller worked to pay his tuition at the University of Arizona, and in 1958 he set up a one-man practice.

“We were really broke,” he recalled of the days when he accepted any case that came along.

His current clients include Max Dunlap, a contractor who is suing Phoenix for $650 million over his subsequently reversed conviction in the car-bomb slaying of newspaper investigative reporter Don Bolles.